A Chinese court recently sentenced Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old lawyer, to four years in prison on charges of reporting on the CCP virus and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” It’s an accusation commonly used by the Chinese Communist Party against dissidents. Zhan was arrested for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic from Wuhan in early February. People around the world have condemned her imprisonment.
Republican Don Bacon noted that Zhan’s imprisonment is another reminder that Beijing is yet to embrace basic human rights. Sophie Richardson, the China director at the Human Rights Watch, criticized the sentencing, accusing Beijing of silencing critics. Women in Journalism, an NGO Coalition in New York, said that they were absolutely dismayed by the court judgment.
“It is yet another, worrying manifestation of the suffocating environment for press freedom in China. No journalist should be subjected to vicious, legal persecution, especially when informing the public about a deadly epidemic spreading across the country,” the organization stated.
A secret trial
One of Zhan’s defense lawyers, Ren Quanniu, revealed that his client was subjected to a secret trial, which was not broadcast online. Only the people present in the court, Zhan’s parents, and two officials monitoring them know what happened.
While in court, Zhan was handcuffed to a wheelchair. She had been on a hunger strike for several months, but then was force-fed by prison guards, an act considered torture by Amnesty International. Due to improper intake of food, Zhan had become extremely weak and needed the wheelchair to move about.
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On several occasions, the judge prevented Zhan from speaking. In her indictment, Zhan was accused of “speaking to overseas media Radio Free Asia and The Epoch Times,” as well “maliciously speculating” about the viral outbreak. Quanniu said that Zhan’s mother was devastated and sobbed when the verdict was announced.
Zhang Keke, also one of Zhan’s lawyers, said that his client was tortured in jail, including the use of brutal restraints. From force-feeding through a gastric tube, Zhan developed inflammation in the mouth and throat. She also suffers from intense stomach pain.
“Restrained 24 hours a day, she needs assistance going to the bathroom. She feels psychologically exhausted, like every day is a torment… [During the trial,] the prosecutor only read out the list of evidence without showing most of it, including the core evidence. Zhang Zhan said citizens’ speech should not be censored. But apart from that, she basically did not speak,” Keke said on social media.
Zhan’s supporters who had come to the trial were blocked by the police. A few were arrested for being “insistent.” When asked why they were not allowed inside, an officer replied that the trial was being conducted behind closed doors due to “epidemic prevention and control measures.”
‘Blood and tears’
One supporter lamented that Zhan was paying a price in “blood and tears” for her truthful reporting of the pandemic. Another supporter lashed out at the communist regime, stating that it stands on the two pillars of power and lies. He accused the CCP of treating Zhan harshly so that ordinary people remain intimidated.
Zhan is not the only person who has been arrested for reporting on the CCP virus. The whereabouts of two Chinese citizen journalists, Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi, are still unknown. They had visited Wuhan earlier in the year. Another citizen journalist, Li Zehua, who had disappeared and resurfaced in April, reported that he was forcibly quarantined by the police.