A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a four-year prison sentence to a citizen-journalist who reported on the central city of Wuhan at the height of the coronavirus epidemic last year, on the grounds of “picking quarrels and cause trouble, ”his lawyer said.
Zhang Zhan, 37, the first known such person to be tried, was among a handful whose firsthand accounts of crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a darker picture of the epicenter of the pandemic as the official account.
Criticism of China’s early handling of the crisis has been censored and whistleblowers, such as doctors, have been warned. State media attributed the success of containing the virus to the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
The virus has spread around the world to infect more than 80 million people and kill more than 1.76 million, crippling air travel as countries erect barriers that have disrupted industries and livelihoods.
In Shanghai, police enforced strict security outside the court where the trial opened seven months after Zhang’s detention, although some supporters were not deterred.
A man in a wheelchair, who told Reuters he was coming from central Henan Province to show his support for Zhang as a Christian, wrote his name on a poster before police arrived to escort him.
Foreign journalists were denied entry to court “due to the epidemic,” court security officials said.
A former lawyer, Zhang arrived in Wuhan on February 1st from her home in Shanghai.
His short video clips uploaded to YouTube consist of interviews with residents, commentary and footage from a crematorium, train stations, hospitals and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Detained in mid-May, she went on a hunger strike in late June, according to court documents viewed by Reuters. Her lawyers told the court that the police tied her hands and force-fed her with a tube. In December, she was suffering from headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, low blood pressure and throat infection.
Requests for the court to release Zhang on bail before the trial and to broadcast the trial live were ignored, his lawyer said.
Other citizen journalists who disappeared without explanation included Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi, and Li Zehua.
Although there has been no news from Fang, Li reappeared in a YouTube video in April to say that he had been forcibly quarantined, while Chen, although released, is under surveillance and not. hasn’t spoken publicly, a friend said.