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Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, imprisoned for her reporting on the coronavirus, will be released after four years in prison

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, imprisoned for her reporting on the coronavirus, will be released after four years in prison

(CNN) — Zhang Zhan, the Chinese journalist who was behind bars for four years for her reporting on the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, will be released on Monday after serving her sentence, according to her supporters and a court ruling.

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was one of the few independent Chinese journalists covering Wuhan after the city of 11 million went into lockdown, offering a rare, unfiltered view of the reality on the ground as Chinese authorities imposed strict censorship on… Media coverage.

Zhang was arrested in May 2020, and months later was sentenced to four years in prison for “provoking quarrels and trouble,” a charge the Chinese government routinely uses against dissidents and human rights activists.

Zhang will finish serving his sentence on Monday, according to the court ruling on his case obtained and published by human rights groups.

Zhang Zhan

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for his reporting on the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. (Image source: IPress News/Reuters)

On the eve of his scheduled release on Monday, his supporters and human rights groups called on the Chinese government to release Zhang on time.

Reporters Without Borders, which awarded Zhang its 2021 Press Freedom Prize, called on “the international community to put pressure on the authorities to secure his unconditional release on Monday” in a post on social platform X on Friday.

In early February 2020, a few days after the Wuhan lockdown was announced, Zhang traveled about 650 kilometers from Shanghai to the central Chinese city to report on the spread of the virus and subsequent attempts to contain it, just as authorities tightened Chinese state surveillance. And private media.

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Over the course of more than three months, he documented snippets of life in Wuhan and the harsh reality its residents faced, from crowded hospitals to empty stores, as the world prepared for the spread of the virus. He posted his notes, photos and videos on Wechat, Twitter and YouTube, the latter two of which have been blocked in China.

“I can’t find what to say because everything is hidden,” he said in a video two weeks after arriving in Wuhan. “This is the problem this country is facing now: Any dissenting opinion from our side can be described as rumours.” With a mask on his face.

“Incluso the new propias are able to control the situation. We are enlisted in the number of the pandemia prevention and the rest of the country is free… If there is no room to cover the fire, if there is no room to sleep on the fire, the mundo will not be sent to we”.

In mid-May, her activities suddenly stopped, and it was later learned that the police arrested her and returned her to Shanghai.

Health problems

Zhang, 40, has begun several hunger strikes since her arrest, and her health has raised concerns among her supporters and human rights groups. In 2021, Zhang’s mother said that her daughter was so weak that she could not lift her head due to lack of strength and that she urgently needed medical care.

During a previous hunger strike, Amnesty International reported that Zhang was restrained and force-fed, treatment the organization said amounted to torture.

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China’s Foreign Ministry has not previously responded to CNN about allegations of mistreatment of Zhang while in detention.

In a lengthy statement issued in July 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that the Chinese government was cracking down on journalists who “exercised their right to freedom of expression online” during the pandemic.

“In China, no one is punished or punished simply for making comments,” the statement said. “The Chinese government has consistently implemented its COVID-19 response in an open and transparent manner, and has achieved widely recognized achievements.”

Zhang was one of the freelance reporters detained or missing early in the pandemic, when Chinese authorities suppressed coverage of the virus and propaganda outlets focused on presenting Beijing’s response as effective and timely.

China is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranks it 172nd out of 180 countries in the world in its annual rankings of press freedom.

The authorities tightly censor the press in their country, blocking most foreign media through the Great Firewall, the Internet’s widespread censorship and surveillance apparatus.