“Picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is the absurd name of the charge Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was convicted of in a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) court on Monday, Dec. 28.
Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison for travelling to Wuhan early in 2020 to report on the real situation of the CCP virus, which was spreading in the city and throughout the rest of China.
Zhang’s livestreams and essays were widely shared on social media as netizens hungry for real information, rather than the Party-apologizing whitewash and rhetoric spewed by state broadcasters, searched desperately for what was really going on in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Agence France Presse (AFP), Zhang began a hunger strike in June and has suffered from a form of torture known as force-feeding through the nose by her captors. One of her defence lawyers, Ren Quanniu, said: “She said when I visited her (last week): ‘If they give me a heavy sentence then I will refuse food until the very end.’… She thinks she will die in prison.”
Another lawyer, Zhang Keke, said the 37-year-old’s detainment is not ordinary: “Restrained 24 hours a day, she needs assistance going to the bathroom.”
Zhang appeared in a Shanghai court in a wheelchair.
In her reports, Zhang, a human rights lawyer who had her license revoked by the CCP as retribution for participating in a petition drive in 2017, was critical of the Communist regime’s response to the spreading pandemic, saying authorities “didn’t give people enough information, then simply locked down the city,” calling the lockdowns “a great violation of human rights.”
In May, Zhang posted a YouTube video where she challenged the Wuhan branch of the Party for charging citizens for virus testing at a cost of 180 Yuan (US$25 approx.) per person while the city had already been on lockdown for months.
Zhang was “disappeared” by the CCP a day later before police confirmed her arrest in June. Her indictment did not become publicly available until November, where the documents accused her of “maliciously speculating” about the pandemic by “speaking to overseas media Radio Free Asia and The Epoch Times.”
The CCP reprimanded and silenced eight whistleblowers as it covered up the pandemic in late 2019 and early 2020, as well as failing to alert the world. Meanwhile, it actively worked with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to deter flows of information that would have alerted the world early and saved countless lives.
Covering up the pandemic
The Party waited until 5 million people had left Wuhan City before implementing sudden lockdown measures on Jan. 23, destroying evidence and silencing doctors who attempted to warn the world in the process.
In a May 18 letter to the WHO, U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted the organization for its incompetence and misconduct, noting the organization “consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal.”
Trump also called out the United Nations organization for its prioritization of CCP politics over saving human lives after Taiwanese authorities sent the WHO evidence of human-to-human transmission as early as Dec. 31, 2019. Trump said: “The World Health Organization chose not to share any of this critical information with the rest of the world, probably for political reasons.”
“China professes pride in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but appears deathly afraid of allowing independent journalists like Zhang Zhan to freely tell the story of what is happening,” said Steven Butler, Asian Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists in May.
Three other Chinese citizen journalists — Chen Qishui, Fang Bin, and Li Zehua — who reported on the pandemic have also disappeared. Their whereabouts remain unknown.