A journalist has been sentenced to four years in jail after reporting on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, early this year.
Zhang Zhan, a 37 year old independent journalist and former lawyer was arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and was charged with disseminating false information last month.
Zhan was one of several people in China who travelled to Wuhan to document the outbreak of the pandemic, and in some cases dispute the official narrative being put out across state media in China.
Why was she arrested?
Zhan had produced videos and posts on social media focussing on the detention of other independent journalists and how families of victims seeking accountability were being harassed, according to the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).
Legal documents from the case state that Zhan had sent “false information through text, video and other media through the internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube.”
The documents also state that she accepted interviews with foreign media outlets and “maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s Covid-19 epidemic.”
Zhan has been protesting against her detention by going on hunger strike, and her lawyer, Zhang Keke, said she had been restrained 24 hours per day and force fed with a tube.
‘The government is determined to silence her’
The former lawyer was previously arrested in 2019 and detained for speaking out in support of activists in Hong Kong.
Speaking to the BBC, Leo Lan, a research and advocacy consultant at CHRD, said, "[Zhan’s] sentence is so heavy. The Chinese government is very determined to silence her and intimidate other citizens who tried to expose what happened in Wuhan.
"I'm concerned about the fate of other detained citizens who also reported news about the pandemic."
It has been speculated that the Chinese government rushed through this and other similar legal proceedings involving activists from Hong Kong during the Christmas period, when they would likely receive less scrutiny from Western governments and media.