World

Wuhan journalist arrested after criticizing secrecy and censorship of Chinese govt

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on December 28, 2020

BL05_PG5_WECHAT   -  REUTERS

A former lawyer and citizen journalist in China, Zhang Zhan, 37, who was detained in May for reporting in Wuhan, has been sentenced to a jail term of four years, The Guardian reported.

Zhang was arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Last month, she was accused of spreading false information related to coronavirus.

Charges

Last week, Chinese authorities released an indictment sheet that read: “False information through text, video and other media through the internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube.”

“She also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s Covid-19 epidemic,” it said.

According to her lawyer Zhang Keke, Zhang is living in a torturous environment. She had been forced fed with a tube when she went on a hunger strike and her hair had been cut short. She had lost 15-20 kgs weight.

“She feels psychologically exhausted, as every day is a torment,” Keke added.

While Zhang had dismissed the charges stating that all her reports that challenged secrecy and censorship of the government were based on first-hand accounts from Wuhan locals. Her video reports were often critical of the secrecy and censorship.

“Ordinary people saying something casually in WeChat might be summoned and admonished,” Because everything is undercover, this is the problem this country is facing now,” Zhang said in one of the reports.

This comes at a time when Chinese officials initiated proceedings against 10 detained Hong Kongers, who tried to reach Taiwan by boat in August. The group was charged with organizing or participating in an illegal border crossing.

Human rights

In 2020, China detained many journalists and human rights activists who had questioned authorities for maintaining secrecy around coronavirus handling. China’s opaque justice system has a conviction rate of about 99 per cent, according to the Guardian report.

This month alone, the authorities have incarcerated a Bloomberg journalist, Haze Fan, on unspecified national security allegations; human rights activist, Ou Biaofen, after he publicized the case of an activist sent to a psychiatric facility; and documentary journalist Du Bin.

“The slew of detentions of those who speak out will only further impede the flow of information about the situation in China. Governments around the world should press Beijing to release wrongfully detained journalists and activists immediately,” Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang said, as cited in the Guardian report.

The report speculated that China mostly runs trials against human rights defenders and journalists during Christmas in order to dodge the western scrutiny into the matter.

Last year, China had also tried to suppress the voice of Dr. Li Wenliang, the doctor who had first broken the news of a virulent virus outbreak in Wuhan on account of "spreading rumors". He later died of the coronavirus, as per earlier reports.

 

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Published on December 28, 2020
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