Chinese Citizen Journalist Released After 4 Years for Covering Wuhan Outbreak

Dorothy Li
By Dorothy Li
May 22, 2024China News

Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist imprisoned in China after posting videos offering a glimpse into the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been released, advocates said.

Ms. Zhang was scheduled to be reunited with her family on May 13 after serving a four-year term, but her status was unclear for over a week, raising concerns by the United States and the European Union.

In footage posted on the social media platform X, Ms. Zhang said that the police sent her to her brother’s apartment in Shanghai on the morning of May 13.

“Thank you, everybody, for your help and concern,” Ms. Zhang said. “I hope everyone is ok.”

It’s not immediately clear when or where the short video was recorded. Jane Wang, an organizer of the “Free Zhang Zhan” campaign, posted the footage on her X account on May 21, saying they obtained the recording from an unnamed “intermediary.”

Her supporters said Ms. Zhang remains under surveillance.

“Like other former political prisoners, she is subject to intrusive government surveillance and harassment,” Ms. Wang said in a statement.

“She is at high risk of being ‘disappeared’ or arrested again.”

Ms. Zhang was among the first Chinese citizens to be punished by the communist regime for seeking to reveal information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tightly controlled related information—from death toll figures and lives under lockdown to the Wuhan lab at the center of the lab leak virus origin theory—in a bid to suppress any news unfavorable to the regime.

A former lawyer from Shanghai, Ms. Zhang traveled to Wuhan in February 2020, capturing the chaotic scenes unfolding at the pandemic’s epicenter during the initial lockdown and providing the public with first-hand information.

She detailed her visits and interviews conducted at hospitals, quarantine centers, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology in dozens of cell phone videos uploaded to social media platforms, including WeChat and YouTube, challenging the CCP’s narrative that the outbreak was under control.

Shanghai police arrested Ms. Zhang in May 2020 and held her for several months without providing an official reason.

On December 28, 2020, Ms. Zhang was sentenced to a four-year jail term for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge often used to prosecute dissidents. Ms. Zhang refused to plead guilty.

While in detention, the 6-foot-tall woman’s weight dropped to under 90 pounds due to a prolonged hunger strike protesting the allegations against her. Foreign governments, lawmakers, and rights advocacy groups have repeatedly raised concerns about Ms. Zhang’s well-being.

Those who spoke out for Ms. Zhang were also targeted. Shen Yanqiu, a Shanghai-based activist who is close to Ms. Zhang’s family, told The Epoch Times that local police summoned her on May 20 due to her public appeal to free the citizen journalist.

Police attempt to stop journalists
Police attempt to stop journalists from recording footage outside the Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Court, where citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced, in Shanghai, on Dec. 28, 2020. (Leo Ramirez/AFP via Getty Images)

While rights advocacy groups applaud the news of her release, concerns about Ms. Zhang’s situation under surveillance remain.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a social media post on May 21 that their call for a “full & unconditional release” remains urgent.

“RSF remains concerned by her situation and emphasises that partial freedom is not freedom at all,” the media watchdog group said in an updated statement later that day. “Diplomatic intervention remains crucial to ensure her full and unconditional release without delay.”

Amnesty International said Ms. Zhang must be able to move and talk freely to people.

“She and her family must not be subjected to surveillance or harassment, and she must have full access to medical treatment after her traumatic ordeal,” the human rights advocacy group said in a May 21 statement on X.

“China’s jailing of Zhang Zhan has been a shameful assault on her human rights. Her release must mark a new beginning.”

Li Xi and Eva Fu contributed to this report. 

From The Epoch Times

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.