The holiday season is never a good time for human rights and freedom of expression activists in China. The year 2020 is no exception. On Monday, December 28, Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old woman, who visited Wuhan on the 1er February 2020 to collect testimonies on the Covid-19 epidemic that was sweeping the city, was sentenced to four years in prison for “Provocations of unrest”. Without further details. Neither his supporters nor the international press were allowed to attend the hearing held in Shanghai, where Zhang Zhan resides. The trial lasted less than three hours. The verdict was delivered on the spot.
Like some other Chinese, Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, had testified on social networks of a reality darker than that described by the propaganda. She denounced the delay with which the authorities had grasped the seriousness of the epidemic, complained about the lack of information, pointed to crowded hospitals and relayed the concerns of the population. In her last video, she judged that the authorities only used “Intimidation and threats” to manage the crisis. She was arrested in May and brought back to Shanghai.
She went on a hunger strike the following month and has since been force-fed by the authorities. It was in a wheelchair that she appeared on Monday at her trial. According to one of his lawyers, Zhang Keke, his client is almost unrecognizable. He does not rule out appealing. “Mme Zhang believes that she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of expression “, he said before the trial. Another of his lawyers, Ren Quanniu, who met his client last week, said she was ready to let herself die. “It is an extreme method to protest against society and this environment”, the lawyer said.
At least three other citizen journalists arrested
Kenneth Roth, executive director of the NGO Human Rights Watch, stressed that the timetable chosen by Beijing for this trial was no accident. “The choice of this sleepy period between Christmas and New Year suggests that Beijing is embarrassed to sentence citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan to four years in prison for chronicling an uncensored version of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan “, he tweeted.
“Zhang Zhan’s case raises serious concerns about media freedom in China,” said the British Embassy in China. At least three other citizen journalists who testified about the situation in Wuhan were arrested: Fang Bin, of whom we have no news; Li Zehua, who was arrested but posted a video uploaded to YouTube in which he said he was forcibly quarantined; and Chen Qiushi, released from prison but who, according to those around him, lives under police surveillance.
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