Citizen Journalist Arrested After Covering Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak

Zhang Zhan, a rights activist, citizen journalist, and former lawyer, has been arrested on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after being detained for over a month by the Shanghai police. Zhang’s detention and arrest come after she reported on the early coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in February. At News, Chris Chang reports:

Zhang began reporting in Wuhan in February, sharing articles and street interviews on social media. Her reports documented life amid ’s lockdown and citizen’s resentment toward the government, irritating the authorities and leading to her arrest.

She went missing on May 14 before the Shanghai police notified her parents [on June 19] that she had been detained on criminal charges.

[…] A former lawyer, Zhang has previously been critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CPP). The Shanghai police have summoned and threatened her several times in the past for expressing her views.

[…] In one audio recording, Zhang said that while state media insisted the coronavirus outbreak was under , the crematorium furnaces in the city were running day and night. She also indicated that Wuhan’s official figures for its coronavirus cases were erroneous, as only patients showing severe symptoms could receive tests during the peak of the outbreak. [Source]

At least three other citizen journalists have disappeared after covering the frontlines of the Wuhan epidemic. Li Zehua emerged on social media in April after being missing for nearly two months, and has said he was held first in a quarantine center in Wuhan then transferred to isolation. Citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin also both disappeared in Wuhan, and their whereabouts are as of yet unknown.

Reporting on Zhang’s arrest for the South China Morning Post, Mimi Lau relays concern from Zhang’s father, and expert commentary on the precarious nature of citizen journalism in China:

“I’m very worried about her and the detention conditions, and her mother is heartbroken,” Zhang’s 63-year-old father, who declined to give his name, said by phone.

“We don’t have any connections or money to get her out – we’re in an utterly powerless situation.”

[…H]er father said he had been concerned about her decision to become a citizen journalist in China and was pessimistic about whether could prompt change, saying it was like “crushing eggs against rocks”.

Zhan Jiang, a retired professor of journalism and communication at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said citizen journalists did not have any legal protection in China and were seen by the authorities as “troublemakers”. […] [Source]

Freedom House’s most recent China Media Bulletin puts Zhang’s detention into the context of ongoing state efforts to control the COVID-19 narrative through harassment, censorship, and propaganda, noting continued defiance from an angry public.

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