Independent Journalist Gets 4 Years in Prison For Reporting on COVID-19

Zhang Zhan

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported on the initial spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan, has been sentenced to four years in prison by a Chinese court.

COVID coverage: Zhan reported on the crisis independently, broadcasting live video footage of overcrowded hospitals and writing essays critical of the Chinese government response, the New York Times reported. 

  • The 37-year-old former lawyer was arrested in May for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” an accusation commonly used against dissidents.
  • To protest her arrest, Zhan initiated a hunger strike in June but the authorities then started force-feeding her through a tube, according to Al Jazeera
  • Lawyer Zhang Ke Ke, who visited Zhan on Christmas Day, expressed concern over her declining health, noting that she had been suffering from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain.
  • “She feels psychologically exhausted, like every day is a torment,” he was quoted as saying.


Sentencing a journalist: Zhan was among at least four citizen journalists who “went missing” in Wuhan after releasing information that veered from the official narrative of the government on how it handled the initial outbreak.

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  • Two others, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua, were released later. Fang Bin remains missing.
  • Zhan’s verdict, given by Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Court on Monday morning, reportedly left the accused and her mother devastated, according to lawyer Ren Quanniu.
  • After the trial, Zhang Ke Ke lamented on social media that the prosecutor only read out the list of evidence “without showing most of it, including the core evidence.”
  • According to South China Morning Post, the sentence also drew criticisms from other activists, with Guangzhou-based Wu Yangwei saying, “The four-year punishment is too heavy.”

Featured Image Screenshots via South China Morning Post

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