Home News Chinese woman jailed for reporting on coronavirus to be released

Chinese woman jailed for reporting on coronavirus to be released


Zhang Zhan, believed to be the first person to be jailed in China for documenting the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in China, is expected to be released from prison on Monday after serving a four-year sentence.

But it was unclear late Monday whether Zhang, 40, had actually been released, a sign that the Chinese government remains keen to suppress public discussion of the epidemic. Zhang Keke, a lawyer who represented Ms. Zhang during the trial (the two are not related), said he had been unable to contact her mother throughout the day. Officials at the Shanghai Prison Administration Bureau declined to comment when contacted by phone.

Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog group, said: “Although she will complete her sentence, there are doubts about the Chinese regime’s willingness to let her regain her freedom.” said in a statement She was days away from expected release. The organization awarded Ms. Zhang a press freedom award in 2021, noting that journalists released in China are often subject to surveillance.

Ms Zhang was an early symbol of many Chinese’s distrust of the government’s handling of the outbreak and their desire for unfiltered information. Former Shanghai lawyer, She visited Wuhan in early 2020a self-styled citizen journalist in the city where the virus was first discovered.

For months, she shot amateurish, often shaky videos that contradicted the government’s narrative of a smooth, successful response to the crisis. She visited crematoriums and crowded hospitals whose corridors were lined with rolling cots. She documented the city’s empty train stations and tried to interview residents about the lockdown, but many refused her or asked to remain anonymous, seemingly out of fear of reprisal.

Friends said at the time that she had never done any reporting before but was motivated by her Christian faith and anger at the government’s one-sided narrative.

“If we just wallow in sadness and don’t do something to change this reality, then our emotions will become cheap,” Ms. Zhang said in a video.

The government, scrambling to control infections and maintain a lockdown in the city of 11 million, had for a time missed a handful of independent reports on the outbreak.Some of the videos Zhang posted on Chinese social media were censored, but she also Upload them to YouTubewhich is banned in China.

But it wasn’t long before the crackdown on independent reporting began in earnest.other Citizen journalists are disappearing. Ms Zhang acknowledged the risks but continued to post information about the lockdown and its consequences when it was lifted in April 2020. Then, in May of that year, she was arrested and taken back to Shanghai.

Still, even in detention, Ms. Zhang remained defiant. She began several lengthy hunger strikes and became so weak that she appeared in court in a wheelchair, according to her lawyer. Her lawyer said authorities force-fed her through a feeding tube.

Ms. Zhang is Sentenced to four years in prison in December 2020Accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catch-all offense often used by governments to silence critics.

Ms. Zhang’s plight quickly became a rallying cry for human rights activists. foreign government Criticize China for suppressing free speech. In 2021, when news broke that Ms. Zhang was seriously ill, the U.S. State Department Call for her immediate releaseas do organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

But many who have tried to speak out for Ms. Zhang inside China appear to have become targets themselves. Her brother has used Twitter, which is banned in China, to share childhood memories and drum up international support for her, but he has remained largely silent. Many of his posts have since been deleted. One of the lawyers representing her was barred from practicing law because of his involvement in another human rights case.

Asked about Ms. Zhang’s case at a regular news conference on Monday, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he had no information about Ms. Zhang’s case but that anyone who violated Chinese laws should be punished.

At Ms. Zhang’s house The last video is from WuhanAs she described chatting with some unemployed migrant workers, she reflected on the usefulness of what she was doing.

“I’m actually very unsure of what to say today,” she said. “But these people, these things always push me to move forward from my despair and fear and continue to focus on them and speak for them.”

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