Zhang is in a Shanghai prison for disturbing social stability and creating public disorder. She criticised the government's handling of the crisis. Friends fear that her Christian faith might lead her to martyrdom. The government is cracking down on those who speak about the pandemic. Posts have been deleted from the virtual ‘wailing wall’ dedicated to the memory of Li Wenliang.
Shanghai (AsiaNews) – Chinese authorities have formally charged Zhang Zhan, the citizen journalist who reported on the COVID-19 emergency in Wuhan (Hubei), the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, from February to mid-May.
According to Radio Free Asia, the forty-year-old lawyer was charged last Friday for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”. She was detained on 15 May at Wuhan's Caiguang Hotel and taken to Pudong district police station in Shanghai, her home town.
In her last YouTube video, posted on 13 May, Zhang reported on job losses in Wuhan, the difficulties local taxi drivers face in the absence of customers, and the intimidation of residents by the urban management police (Chengguan). In her posts, she often criticised the government’s handling of the crisis.
Zhang, who rejects all charges, was previously arrested in Shanghai last September, spending 60 days in prison for her support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Friends fear that her Christian faith might lead her to martyrdom.
Zhang is not the only citizen journalist to run afoul of the law. Three other citizen journalists went missing in Wuhan in February. Li Zehua, who had reported that city crematoria were open 19 hours a day, reappeared on 22 April after a period under arrest. However, there is no news of the fate of Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi.
According to official data, since the imposition of the lockdown in Wuhan in late January, the government has indicted or arrested thousands of people for reporting allegedly false information on the coronavirus and creating public order problems.
The authorities used the same charge to silence Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old Wuhan doctor who shared information in chatrooms about an atypical pneumonia that was more aggressive than SARS.
Li died on 6 February from the coronavirus. Since then his Weibo page, a well-known Chinese-based mini-blogging service, has been inundated with comments in support of his courage.
In recent days however, many of the posts left on the virtual ‘Wailing Wall’ in Li’s memory have been deleted or removed. This has triggered protests from Chinese netizens.