A Chinese citizen journalist detained for her livestream report from Wuhan since May when the Covid-19 outbreak unfolded was tried on Monday, nearly a year after details of an “unknown viral pneumonia” emerged in the central Chinese city .
Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, could serve up to five years in prison if convicted of “quarrels and anger” for reporting in the chaotic early stages of the outbreak.
Her live reports and essays were widely circulated on social media platforms in February and caught the attention of authorities who have penalized eight whistleblowers with viruses to the extent that they have broken criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.
Around a dozen supporters and diplomats gathered outside the Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Court on Monday morning, but police pushed journalists and observers away from the entrance when the defendant and her lawyer arrived.
According to her lawyers, 37-year-old Zhang went on a hunger strike in June and was force-fed through a nasal tube as concerns for her health increase.
“She said when I visited her (last week), ‘If they give me a heavy sentence, I will refuse to eat until the end.’ … She thinks she will die in prison, “said Ren Quanniu, one of Zhang’s lawyers.
“It’s an extreme way of protesting against this society and this environment.”
China’s communist authorities have historically tried dissidents in opaque courts between Christmas and New Years in order to minimize Western control.
The study takes place just weeks before an international team of World Health Organization experts arrive in China to investigate the origins of Covid-19.
Another lawyer said Zhang’s health was in poor condition and she suffered from headaches, dizziness, and stomach pain.
“Withheld 24 hours a day, she needs help going to the bathroom,” wrote Zhang Keke, who visited her on Christmas Day, in a note posted on social media.
“She feels psychologically exhausted, as if every day is torture.”
He said Zhang vowed not to stop her hunger strike despite repeated requests from family, friends, and lawyers.
The prosecutor has recommended a four to five year sentence, but she has consistently maintained her innocence.
Zhang criticized the early response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government “did not give people enough information and then simply locked the city down.”
“This is a major violation of human rights,” she wrote.
Rights groups have also drawn attention to Zhang’s case.
Authorities “want to use their case as an example to discourage other dissidents from asking questions about the pandemic situation in Wuhan earlier this year,” said Leo Lan, research and advocacy advisor at the Chinese human rights defenders NGO.
Zhang is the first to stand trial against a group of four citizen journalists who were arrested by authorities earlier this year after reporting from Wuhan.
Previous attempts by the AFP to contact the other three – Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua – were unsuccessful.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)