Chinese citizen journalist jailed for Covid reporting in Wuhan finally set to be released

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was jailed for reporting from Wuhan in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to be released after four years.

The lawyer-turned-citizen journalist was in Wuhan to document the Chinese government's efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that became a global pandemic in February 2020.

He spoke about the Chinese government's efforts to censor criticism against the response to the pandemic on multiple social media platforms, including YouTube, WeChat and Xx (formerly Twitter).

“After 4 years in prison for her independent reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, journalist Zhang Zhan is set to be released on May 13,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shared on Twitter.

China has faced accusations of delaying the release of critical information during the initial outbreak and attempting to cover up the situation, actions believed to have helped spread the virus to epidemic proportions.

Ms Zhang was arrested in May 2020 and later convicted of “picking up fights and provoking trouble”, resulting in a four-year prison sentence. Since then, she has been imprisoned in Shanghai Women's Prison.

Pro-democracy activists hold placards in support of 12 Hong Kong residents and former lawyer Zhang Zhan detained in mainland China outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong on December 28, 2020. ,getty images,

In a video posted in February 2020, Ms Zhang said Wuhan was “paralyzed because everything was secret”.

He added: “This is what this country is facing now… They imprison us and restrict our freedom in the name of pandemic prevention. We should not talk to strangers, it is dangerous. Therefore, without truth everything is meaningless. If we cannot reach the truth, if we cannot break the monopoly of truth, then the world has no meaning for us.

Ms Zhang also posted a video online showing a hospital filled with patients during the early stages of the pandemic, a time when much information about the spread of the virus had not yet reached the rest of the world.

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While in jail, she went on a long hunger strike which affected her health and the authorities had to force-feed her.

Her lawyer told reporters that she had become very thin during her time in prison and that a tube was placed in her nose due to force-feeding.

International human rights groups are demanding Ms Zhang's release and Amnesty International says she should not have been jailed in the first place.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International's China director, said: “We urge the Chinese authorities to ensure that Zhang Zhan is fully freed by May 13. He should be allowed to move freely, communicate with people inside and outside China, and be reunited with his family. She and her family should not be subjected to surveillance or harassment, and Chinese authorities should also ensure that there are no restrictions on her access to medical treatment following her traumatic experience in prison.

Additional reporting with agencies

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