Chinese Communists Plan Years in Prison for Lawyer-Journalist Who Documented Government Failings in Covid Crisis

(p. A15) In one video, during the lockdown in Wuhan, she filmed a hospital hallway lined with rolling beds, the patients hooked up to blue oxygen tanks. In another, she panned over a community health center, noting that a man said he was charged for a coronavirus test, even though residents believed the tests would be free.

At the time, Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer turned citizen journalist, embodied the Chinese people’s hunger for unfiltered information about the epidemic. Now, she has become a symbol of the government’s efforts to deny its early failings in the crisis and promote a victorious narrative instead.

Ms. Zhang abruptly stopped posting in May [2020], after several months of dispatches. The police later revealed that she had been arrested, accused of spreading lies. On Monday [Dec. 28, 2020], she will go to court, in the first known trial of a chronicler of China’s coronavirus crisis.

Ms. Zhang has continued to challenge the authorities from jail. Soon after her arrest, Ms. Zhang began a hunger strike, according to her lawyers. She has become gaunt and drained but has refused to eat, the lawyers said, maintaining that her strike is her form of protest against her unjust detention.

“She said she refuses to participate in the trial. She says it’s an insult,” Ren Quanniu, one of the lawyers, said after visiting Ms. Zhang in mid-December in Shanghai, where she is being held.

Ms. Zhang’s prosecution is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s continuing campaign to recast China’s handling of the outbreak as a succession of wise, triumphant moves by the government. Critics who have pointed to officials’ early missteps have been arrested, censored or threatened by police; three other citizen journalists disappeared from Wuhan before Ms. Zhang did, though none of the rest has been publicly charged.

Prosecutors accused Ms. Zhang of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” — a frequent charge for government critics — and recommended between four and five years in prison.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “Wuhan Citizen Journalist Faces Trial for Posts in Pandemic.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 27, 2020): A15.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 27, 2020, and has the title “She Chronicled China’s Crisis. Now She Is Accused of Spreading Lies.”)

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