Last February it was chaos in Wuhan, a city confined since January 23. But Zhang Zhan, 37, manages to sneak into the streets to do her job as a “citizen journalist”. A lawyer by training, she travels through neighborhoods, and disseminates images of a deserted capital on several social networks, where hospitals are overwhelmed.
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Spotted by Public Security, she went missing on May 14 in Wuhan. Detained in Shanghai the next day, she was officially charged on Monday November 16 for “Spreading fake news” and “Public disorder”. She faces up to five years in prison.
Criticizing “government truth” gets you in jail
These reasons are regularly invoked by the authorities in China against Chinese human rights activists who dare to criticize the “Government truth”. The indictment published Monday by the Shanghai justice specifies that Zhang Zhan “Disseminated false information through articles and videos posted on WeChat, Twitter and YouTube”. She also has “Accepted interviews from foreign media such as Radio Free Asia and The Epoch Times, maliciously speculating on the Covid-19 epidemic in Wuhan”.
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“What the authorities are not talking about, reacted the NGO Defense for Human Rights in China, these are the reports of Zhang Zhan denouncing the arrests of other “citizen-journalists” and the harassment to which the families of the victims of the virus have been subjected, demanding the government to account “.
Many “citizen-journalists” have been arrested
In fact, Zhang Zhan is not the first “citizen-journalist” to experience serious trouble with the police for having informed about the epidemic situation in Wuhan. After disappearing for several weeks in February, Li Zehua reappeared in April. Lawyer-journalist Chen Qiushi was arrested in January and subsequently placed under house arrest. Finally, the famous Fang Bin who broadcast his videos while commenting on his images in the streets of the city, disappeared around the same time. No one knows what happened to him since.
Two other Beijing youth, 27, Chen Mei, a social worker at an institute for the autistic and deaf, and his friend Cai Wei, were arrested in April, held incommunicado for 55 days and charged on September 21. They had the audacity to archive as much information as possible on the Covid-19 epidemic in Wuhan. Their trial is said to be imminent. They too face up to five years in prison.
Human Rights Watch calls for Zhang Zhan’s release
As for Zhang Zhan, this is not the first time that the authorities have arrested him. In 2019, the young woman was detained for two months, including several days in a mental hospital, for disseminating information on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. This time around, she reportedly started a hunger strike in Shanghai in September.
“Zhang Zhan was punished for doing what the world desperately needs: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan”, said Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch. Like other NGOs, she calls on the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) to intervene with China so that the charges against Zhang Zhan are dropped.