A journalist who said it was 'God's will' for her to report on the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan has been jailed for four years. Zhang Zhan, 37, was convicted on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
Zhang, had reported on the early stages of the virus outbreak by uploading YouTube videos of interviews with residents, along with footage of crematoriums, overcrowded hospitals and empty streets. The Chinese authorities cracked down on several in-situ journalists who were seeking to shed light on the spiralling crisis. Journalists Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua have all disappeared since reporting on the outbreak.
The indictment against Zheng accuses her of spreading "false information through text, video and other media through the internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube”.
It added that Zhang "also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s Covid-19 epidemic".
Zhang’s lawyer, Zhang Keke, has said that the journalist feels "psychologically exhausted" and that "every day is a torment". Keke added that Zhang has been restrained 24 hours a day, and even force-fed after going on hunger strike.
Zhang's friend, Li Dawei, said they had warned her about the dangers of reporting from Wuhan, but that Zhang was convinced it was God's plan for her life.
"I warned her about going to Wuhan when everyone else was trying to leave," said her friend and fellow lawyer," Dawei said.
"She is a staunch Christian and said it was God's will — she had to do this and tell everyone the truth."
Another of Zhang's lawyers said that when he visited her in jail, she lamented that fact that she did not have a Bible in her cell, and quoted him a passage from 1 Corinthians: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.”
Human rights lawyer Chen Jiangang told the New York Times that the severity of Zhang's punishment shows the government's unwavering commitment to peddling their own narrative about what happened in the early days of the outbreak.
"Any time the Chinese Communist Party thinks of a case as political, what they use is suppression. Extremely cruel suppression,” Chen explained.
“What was Zhang Zhan’s crime? She just went to Wuhan, saw some things, talked about them. That’s it.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Zhang's journalistic work should be "celebrated".
"In the face of the Chinese Communist Party's lies, Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan’s uncensored reports from Wuhan gave the world a much-needed window into the outbreak of COVID-19," he wrote on Twitter. "She should be celebrated for her courage – not imprisoned for it."