Chinese citizen journalist Zhan Zhang was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for making allegations about the government's attempts to cover the severity of the coronavirus in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan. The journalist has become the first to be charged and sentenced for challenging the CCP's official narrative on the pandemic.
Zhang, a former lawyer, traveled to Wuhan, from her residence in Shanghai, to document what was happening in the early days of the outbreak. For a few months, she uploaded videos of what Wuhan residents were going through.
“The government's way of managing this city has just been intimidation and threats,” she said in one of her videos. “This is truly the tragedy of this country.”
That was the last video she uploaded.
Her friends soon realized that she was no longer replying to messages and later learned that she had been arrested. A few weeks ago, she was officially charged with making up false information and spreading lies.
On Monday, she was tried at the Shanghai Pudong New District People's Court. In the trial that lasted about three hours behind closed doors, she was convicted of the vague crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Considering the trial's length and the fact that it was conducted behind closed doors, Cheng Jiangang, a Chinese human rights lawyer who fled to the US in 2019, said that the government saw preserving its narrative as important as holding on to power.
“Any time the Chinese Communist Party thinks of a case as political, what they use is suppression. Extremely cruel suppression,” said Mr. Chen.
“What was Zhang Zhan's crime?” he continued. “She just went to Wuhan, saw some things, talked about them. That's it.”
Citizen journalists are a reliable source of information in China since the government controls the media. However, since they often conflict with the government's official narrative, they are often censored and even punished.
Still, a few individuals like Zhang provide independent reporting knowing that they might end up detained and slapped with bogus charges. In her videos, Zhang was particularly critical of the government, questioning why it was so focused on silencing whistleblowers and noting that Wuhan's lockdown was enforced too harshly. She also opposed the CCP's propaganda that the government response to the pandemic was perfect.
From the beginning of the pandemic, realizing that the government would be blamed for the outbreak, the CCP started propaganda that the government's response to the virus was swift. The government has tried to sell itself as responsible, transparent, and even benevolent in its response to the outbreak. The propaganda did not sit well with Zhang, as she questioned it in some of her videos.
The Chinese government does not welcome criticism. So, Zhang and other journalists who shared content disputing the official narrative were arrested.
Zhang is among at least four journalists who have been arrested for similar crimes. Li Zehua and Chen Qiushi are said to have been released. However, Fang Bin's whereabouts are unknown.