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Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, 37, who was arrested after 'reporting the truth' about the coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan has been jailed for four years

Chinese citizen journalist jailed for ‘reporting the truth’ about Wuhan’s coronavirus outbreak

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A Chinese citizen journalist who was arrested after ‘reporting the truth’ about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was today jailed for four years.

Zhang Zhan, 37, has been found guilty of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ for her criticism of the Wuhan government’s handling of the crisis at the peak of the outbreak.

Ms Zhang – the first citizen journalist known to have been tried – was among a handful of people whose firsthand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the pandemic epicentre than the official narrative.

Her lawyer Ren Quanniu said they will likely appeal her four-year sentence handed down at a court in Pudong, Shanghai.

Before the trial – which ended at 12.30pm local time – he said: ‘Ms Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech.’

Criticism of China’s early handling of the crisis has been censored, and whistle-blowers, such as doctors, have been warned off speaking out.

State media have credited success in reining in the virus to the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

A New York-based human rights organisation earlier told MailOnline that Ms Zhang was being punished ‘for doing exactly what the world desperately needed: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan’.

Home to some 11million people, the Chinese provincial capital caught international attention last December when coronavirus first broke out there before spreading around the globe, with at least 1.7 million reported deaths so far.

In Shanghai, police enforced tight security outside the court where the trial opened seven months after Ms Zhang’s detention, although some supporters were undeterred.

State media have credited success in reining in the virus to the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

A New York-based human rights organisation earlier told MailOnline that Ms Zhang was being punished ‘for doing exactly what the world desperately needed: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan’.

Home to some 11million people, the Chinese provincial capital caught international attention last December when coronavirus first broke out there before spreading around the globe, with at least 1.7 million reported deaths so far.

In Shanghai, police enforced tight security outside the court where the trial opened seven months after Ms Zhang’s detention, although some supporters were undeterred.

Her short video clips uploaded to YouTube consist of interviews with residents, commentary and footage of a crematorium, train stations, hospitals and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Detained in mid-May, she went on a hunger strike in late June, court documents revealed.

Wuhan caught international attention last December when the coronavirus first broke out there before spreading around the globe, killing at least 1.7 million people so far. Pictured, patients infected with Covid-19 are seen at a makeshift hospital in Wuhan on February

Wuhan caught international attention last December when the coronavirus first broke out there before spreading around the globe, killing at least 1.7 million people so far. Pictured, patients infected with Covid-19 are seen at a makeshift hospital in Wuhan on February

Her lawyers told the court that police strapped her hands and force-fed her with a tube.

By December, she was suffering headaches, giddiness, stomach ache, low blood pressure and a throat infection.

Another one of Ms Zhang’s lawyers, Zhang Keke, described the grim situation of his client after visiting her in a detention centre in Shanghai earlier this month – according to a post on Weiquan Net, a Chinese website which publishes updates about activists.

Her restraint belts had made it difficult for her to sleep at night and she needed assistance for the toilet, the post read.

Ms Zhang was ‘completely exhausted’ and ‘felt every day is torment’, and could not stop crying during the meeting with her lawyer, the article said.

She allegedly refused to halt her hunger strike even though her lawyer had pleaded her to stop on behalf of her family and friends.

She also allegedly denied the official accusations that she had fabricated false information and insisted that all her reports had come from first-hand interviews and real-location visits in Wuhan.

According to Weiquan Net, Ms Zhang’s persecution documents were released by the People’s Procuratorate of Pudong New District of Shanghai on September 15.

Ms Zhang's supporters have hailed her for revealing 'the truth' of the coronavirus outbreak

Ms Zhang’s supporters have hailed her for revealing ‘the truth’ of the coronavirus outbreak

One of the official files accused Ms Zhang of ‘maliciously hyping the epidemic of the novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan’ through popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, as well as Twitter and YouTube.

The prosecutor claimed that Ms Zhang had spread ‘a large amount of false information’ through text and videos and accepted interviews with foreign media outlets.

Requests to the court to release Zhang on bail before the trial and livestream the trial went ignored, her lawyer said.

Other citizen-journalists who had disappeared without explanation included Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua.

While there has been no news of Fang, Li re-emerged in a YouTube video in April to say he was forcibly quarantined.

Chen, although released, is under surveillance and has not spoken publicly, a friend has said.

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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