The Christian citizen journalist who covered the Wuhan virus outbreak in February was sentenced to four years in prison Monday at the Pudong New Area People's Court in Shanghai.
Zhang Zhan was imprisoned on charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" after more than seven months of arbitrary detention. She was also accused of spreading fabricated information about the situation in Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak.
Her lawyer, Zhang Keke, did not give details about the sentence, saying it was "inconvenient" to do so, which indicates a possible gag order from the court. Whether Zhang Zhan will appeal her case or not was not discussed in court, CBS News reports.
Zhang Zhan, who is from Shanghai, went to Wuhan in February to report about what's happening at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. She uploaded her findings on her social media accounts.
She investigated the government's response in addressing and containing the spread of the coronavirus. She also reported on the government's use of control, the quality of food being supplied to quarantined families, and the medical care being received by those infected.
Additionally, she searched for fellow citizen journalists reporting about the Wuhan virus who disappeared, including Fang Bin, a resident of the city who uploaded a video showing bodies of COVID-19 patients being taken from a hospital.
Zhang Zhan went missing on May 14 after she posted a video about government neglect in handling the pandemic. The next day, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau announced she had been detained on charges of violating Article 293 of China's Criminal Code. Authorities often use the same charge against activists and human rights defenders.
She began a fast at the end of June to pray against the injustice being done to her and others like her who have been imprisoned unjustly.
"I believe in Christ, and I often pray to God to forgive the wicked. I pray that He will save those in pain and suffering," she said to her other lawyer, Ren Quanniu.
However, when prison authorities learned about her fasting, they forcibly inserted a tube in her nose and mouth to feed her. The feeding tube stayed in her body for two months, which made her health deteriorate. They also restrained her hands at the waist to keep her from pulling the tube out.
Because of these restrictions, the continued presence of the feeding tube in her body, and torture from prison authorities, Zhang Zhan suffered physically. Ren Quanniu described her as looking so thin "like skin and bones" and barely recognizable.
Zhang Keke said she had complained of "headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, and a sore throat as well as a sore mouth" when he visited her earlier this month.
This is not the first time the 37-year-old former lawyer was imprisoned. Last year, she was detained for speaking out and giving her support to the Hong Kong activists. In fact, authorities suspended her license as a lawyer because of her activism, but she continued to speak for the truth as a citizen journalist.
Regarding her reports about the Wuhan virus outbreak, Zhang Zhan denied the charge that she spread false accusation.
"I never fabricated any false information. I personally visited knowledgeable people in communities, drug stores, as well as in supermarkets near Wuhan's railway station," she told Zhang Keke.
"I interviewed many Wuhan residents to ensure I obtained, credible first-hand information, which included the quality of vegetables distributed to residents during the pandemic lockdown, and the price of the Covid-19 Nucleic Acid PCR Test," she added.
When the coronavirus first spread in Wuhan, Chinese authorities suppressed reports coming out of the city. Besides Zhang Zhan, other citizen journalists who posted videos and information about Wuhan on social media also disappeared: Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, and Fang Bin.
Chen Qiushi is reportedly back with his family but remains under government surveillance, although some reports say he was probably still being held at an undisclosed location. Li Zehua, after going missing, resurfaced and said he was quarantined. Fang Bin has not yet been found.