Journalist sentenced to four years in Chinese prison over early viral outbreak reports

While President Donald Trump’s pointed tweets and public statements have led critics to accuse him of endangering journalists, many of those detractors are notably less outspoken against the decidedly harsher approach of Chinese authorities against inconvenient reporters.

The latest example involves Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist sentenced to four years in prison connected to reports from Wuhan, China, during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Picking quarrels and provoking trouble”

According to Breitbart, the 37-year-old reporter had been critical of the communist regime’s approach to handling the viral outbreak.

A court in Shanghai found Zhang guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” the type of broad charge often leveled against activists, journalists, or anyone else accused of not toeing the party line.

She first traveled to Wuhan in February to begin reporting on the new coronavirus. In May, she briefly disappeared, only to resurface a short time later in police custody.

Authorities in Shanghai accused her of spreading misinformation online and participating in media interviews with Western outlets.

The Guardian noted that Zhang’s indictment recommended a sentence of between four and five years behind bars for her alleged crimes. Her attorney, Zhang Keke, told the press that the defendant remained silent throughout the trial and arrived in a wheelchair.

“A parody of justice”

Her lawyer further claimed that she has been restrained 24 hours per day, had her hair forcibly cropped, and was fed through a tube after launching a hunger strike to protest her treatment.

“She feels psychologically exhausted, like every day is a torment,” the attorney concluded.

Of course, Zhange Zhan is not the only journalist to be targeted by Chinese officials after reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak. Several others have disappeared, with some later turning up in custody and others released, albeit sufficiently chastened and often subjected to constant surveillance, according to NBC News.

Several organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office, have stepped up to lodge complaints regarding China’s treatment of journalists.

As Reporters Without Borders East Asia Bureau Chief Cedric Alviani told Voice of America: “Zhang Zhan was only serving the public interest by reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, so, she should never have been detained, not to mention, received a four-year prison sentence. This trial is actually a parody of justice.”

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