Chinese journalist jailed for Wuhan virus reporting

Zhang Zhan has been jailed for four years for writing about the development of the Covid-19 pandemic in China

Citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan is seen in Wuhan, Hubei province, China in this handout picture taken on May 3, 2020.  Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

A Chinese citizen journalist was jailed for four years on Monday for spreading "false remarks" from Wuhan as the Covid-19 outbreak began, her lawyer said, almost a year after details of the coronavirus was discovered in the central China city.

Zhang Zhan, 37, a former lawyer who arrived at court in a wheelchair, was sentenced at a brief hearing in a Shanghai court for "provoking trouble".

Her posts and essays were shared on social media in February, grabbing the attention of authorities.

Beijing has been proud of its "extraordinary" success in controlling the virus inside its borders, with an economy on the rebound while much of the world is still in lockdown with surging case numbers.

But it has been accused of clamping down on freedom of expression in posts on its handling of the health emergency.

The court said Zhang spread false remarks online but the prosecution did not fully divulge its evidence in court, said one of her lawyers, Zhang Keke.

In return the defendant "didn't respond ... she refused to answer when the judge asked her to confirm her identity".

Concerns are mounting over the health of Zhang, who began a hunger strike in June and has been fed through a nasal tube.

In this photo taken April 14, 2020 and released by Melanie Wang, Zhang Zhan eats a meal at a park during a visit to Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. A Chinese court on Monday sentenced the former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of "picking fights and provoking trouble," one of her lawyers said. (Melanie Wang via AP)

Her legal team said she suffered from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain.

The sentencing comes just weeks before an international team of World Health Organisation experts is expected to arrive in China to investigate the origins of Covid-19.

A police officer tries to stop media as a lawyer, center, of Zhang Zhan arrives at a court in Shanghai, China Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. The Pudong New Area People��������s Court sentenced Zhang, a former lawyer who reported on the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison on charges of �������picking fights and provoking trouble," one of her lawyers said. (Kyodo News via AP)

Zhang was critical of the early response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government "didn't give people enough information, then simply locked down the city".

"This is a great violation of human rights," she wrote.

Rights groups and embassies have also drawn attention to Zhang's case.

"Zhang Zhan's case raises serious concerns about media freedom in China," the British embassy in Beijing said.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet tweeted: "We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to Covid-19 and continue to call for her release."

Zhang is the first of four citizen journalists detained by authorities after reporting from Wuhan to face trial.

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS