Since the start of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, China has done everything in their power to protect their image, including hiding information about the deadly virus. To make matters even worse, the World Health Organization continually provided cover for China, including when Taiwan voiced concerns over COVID-19. Instead of telling other countries, the WHO continually parroted Chinese talking points, the biggest lie being that the virus was not transmitted from human-to-human. We now know the virus is extremely contagious and transmitted from person-to-person. And because of China's lies, the world is grappling with a pandemic.
Fast forward nine months later and China is punishing citizen journalists who warned about the deadly virus.
On Monday, 37-year-old Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer and YouTuber who frequently uploaded videos about her first-hand experiences of crowded hospitals and empty streets, was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble." Her videos included interviews and commentary with residents as well as footage from hospitals and train stations. Zhang also posted videos of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the majority of the United States' 17 intelligence agencies believe that the coronavirus originated. Obviously, Zhang's videos were something that ran counter to the Chinese Community Party's narrative, that the coronavirus was under control thanks to President Xi Jinping's leadership, Reuters reported.
“I don’t understand. All she did was say a few true words, and for that she got four years,” Zhang's mother, Shao Wenxia, said following the verdict.
To make matters even worse, Chinese officials are accused of purposefully holding the hearings between Christmas and New Year's so there would be less media coverage from those in the Western Hemisphere, including the United States. Police in Shanghai also prevented foreign journalists from entering the court building, citing "the epidemic" as the reason.
Human Rights Watch's Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, slammed the Chinese Communist Party for purposely holding Zhang's trial during the "sleepy period between Christmas and New Year's."
Beijing's selection of the sleepy period between Christmas and New Year's suggests even it is embarrassed to sentence citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan to four years in prison for having chronicled the uncensored version of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. https://t.co/xA4bShijxd pic.twitter.com/cT9nVFcyeH— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) December 28, 2020
Zhang was detained in May after being accused of "spreading false information, giving interviews to foreign media, disrupting social order and attacking the government," NBC News reported. She ultimately went on a hunger strike in late June. According to her lawyers, police strapped Zhang's hands and forced her to eat with a feeding tube. Earlier this month she was suffering from a variety of issues, including "headaches, giddiness, stomach ache, low blood pressure and a throat infection," all as a result of her hunger strike, Reuters reported.
Zhang’s lawyer, Zhang Keke, said he saw his client before the trial.
“When I met her days ago, her hands were tied to the waist and a nasogastric tube was inserted in her nose,” the lawyer said, detailing the effects of her long-term hunger strike. “She has a strong will."
Another one of her lawyers, Ren Quanniu, pleaded with her to eat but Zhang refused.
“She’s much paler than in her videos and photos — deathly pale,” Ren told the New York Times. “It’s really hard to believe that she’s the same person as you saw online.”
The United Nations called for Zhang's release, which the CCP ultimately ignored.
#China: We are deeply concerned by the 4-year prison sentence imposed on citizen journalist Zhang Zhan. We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release.— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) December 28, 2020
Other citizen journalists who have spoken up about the virus have also disappeared. Fang Bin shared videos about the hospitals in Wuhan but she has been missing since February.
Chen Quishi also disappeared in February for talking about the outbreak on social media. He was arrested and released but is being closely monitored. He has not spoken publicly since.
Li Zehua was another citizen journalists who went missing in February. He appeared in a YouTube video to let followers know he was "forcibly quarantined."
Dr. Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who attempted to warn about the pandemic, ended up contracting COVID-19 and dying from the virus.