A pro-democracy activist holds posters with a picture of Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan
A Chinese court has sentenced a former attorney who covered the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak to four years in prison for accused of “fighting and provoking trouble,” one of their lawyers said.
The Pudong New Area People’s Court in Shanghai’s Financial Center sentenced Zhang Zhan on allegations of disseminating false information, interviewing foreign media, disrupting public order and “maliciously manipulating” the outbreak.
Attorney Zhang Keke upheld the verdict but said it was “impractical” to provide details – usually an indication that the court issued a partial gag order. He said the court did not ask Ms. Zhang if she would appeal, nor did she indicate whether she would appeal.
Zhang Zhan reportedly in poor health (AP / Kin Cheung)
Ms. Zhang, 37, traveled to Wuhan in February and posted information on various social media platforms about the outbreak, which is believed to have occurred in the central Chinese city late last year.
She was arrested in May under strict nationwide measures to contain the outbreak, heavy censorship and deflect criticism of the government’s initial response. Ms. Zhang reportedly went on an extended hunger strike while in detention and asked the authorities to force-feed her. She is said to be in poor health.
China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of vital information to allow the virus to spread and contribute to the pandemic that has sickened more than 80 million people and killed nearly 1.8 million people worldwide. Beijing vigorously denies the allegations, saying it has taken swift action that has given the rest of the world time to prepare.
China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the media and tries to block the distribution of information it has not approved for publication. In the early days of the outbreak, authorities reprimanded several Wuhan doctors for “running rumors” after alerting friends on social media. The most famous of the doctors, Li Wenliang, later succumbed to Covid-19.