Journalist Who Raised Early Alarms About COVID-19, Documented Wuhan Outbreak Jailed for 4 Years

Virginia Chamlee
·3 min read

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty

A Chinese journalist who shared dozens of videos illustrating the severity of Wuhan's COVID-19 outbreak has been sentenced to four years in prison after being accused of spreading misinformation.

Zhang Zhan, 37, was found guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," her lawyers said, according to CNN. CNN noted that this charge in China is often used to punish anti-government activists.

In a series of videos posted to social media sites including Twitter over three months, Zhan — who is a former lawyer — showed how the pandemic had affected everyday life in Wuhan, from hospitals at full capacity to empty stores shuttered due to lockdowns.

As The New York Times reported, Zhan's videos were critical of the Chinese government's response to the virus and challenged the notion that it had everything under control.

In her final message before being arrested in May, she said: "The government’s way of managing this city has just been intimidation and threats. This is truly the tragedy of this country.”

An indictment accuses her of publishing "fake information" and receiving interviews from international media outlets out of malice, reported CNN. The outlet added that the indictment details that Zhan was twice detained in 2019, though it's unclear what for.

The Times reported that Zhang began a hunger strike in protest of her arrest, and was force-fed by authorities via a feeding tube.

A number of other citizen journalists in China have gone missing, been arrested, or put under government surveillance due to their work during the pandemic.

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Speaking anonymously to CBS News, a lawyer for Zhang said she did nothing wrong, and her videos should be protected as free speech.

"No one dared to speak out under that situation, but Zhang Zhan went to report on the frontline and against the government line," the attorney told CBS. "That's why the authorities think she was trying to harm the government. While the government was trying to accuse or frame her, Zhang was just trying to protect the public's right to know."

Wuhan is the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus and a major transportation hub that allowed for the virus to spread easily to other countries.

The Chinese city went into lockdown in January, a then-unprecedented move to halt the spread.

China officially lifted its lockdown on Wuhan in April and state media propaganda has claimed that the country's "outstanding leadership" has defeated the virus, according to TIME.

According to a New York Times tracker, more than 1.7 million deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 globally in the past year, as of Monday.

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