On Monday, a Chinese court handed a four-year prison sentence to a citizen journalist who reported from the central city of Wuhan at the height of last year’s coronavirus epidemic on the pretext of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” her lawyer stated.
Among a handful of individuals whose first-hand accounts from packed hospitals and deserted streets painted a more grim image of the pandemic epicenter than the official version was Zhang Zhan, 37.
She has also became the first such person known to have been prosecuted.
“We will probably appeal,” her lawyer, Ren Quanniu, told Reuters, adding that the trial at a court in Pudong, a district of China’s business hub of Shanghai, ended at 12.30 p.m., with Zhang being sentenced to four years.
“Ms. Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech,” he had said before the trial.
Criticism of China’s early crisis management has been suppressed, and whistle-blowers, such as physicians, have been warned. State media also attributed success to President Xi Jinping’s leadership in reining in the virus.
The virus has spread globally to infect more than 80 million people and kill more than 1.76 million, paralyzing air traffic as nations have disrupted economies and livelihoods by putting up walls against it.
Police imposed strict security outside the court in Shanghai, where the trial began seven months after the arrest of Zhang, although some supporters were undeterred.
International journalists “due to the epidemic” were refused entrance to the court, court security officials said.