Chinese Journalist Zhang Zhan, Jailed For Reportage On Wuhan COVID Outbreak, To Be Released

Jailed in 2020 for her coverage in Wuhan, Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan is set to be released on Monday. Zhan was one of the few journalists to report on the outbreak in Wuhan after millions were put under lockdown.

Chinese Journalist Zhang Zhan To Be Released After 4 Years Photo: AFP

China is set to release Zhang Zhan, a journalist, who had been imprisoned for her reportage and coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. Zhan was one of the few journalists to report on the outbreak in Wuhan after millions were put under lockdown. She was first detained in May 2020 and is due to be released on Monday.

Zhan was one of the jew journalists in China who provided an unfiltered glimpse into the metropolitan city of 11 million people. Her coverage was also crucial since Chinese authorities had imposed tight censorship on media coverage of the outbreak.

The former lawyer was arrested in May 2020 and was sentenced to four years in prison on the charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble". As per human rights activists, this charge is commonly used by the government to target activists and dissidents.

What Did Zhan Do?

In 2020, shortly after Wuhan went into lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, Zhang Zhan travelled from Shanghai to Wuhan to report on the spread of the virus and the attempts made by the Chinese government to contain it.

She spent three months in the city where she documented life under lockdown in Wuhan - from overflowing hospitals to empty streets - Shan covered it all and shared the clips on social media platforms such as YouTube, WeChat and Twitter (now X).

Her videos went viral on WeChat, which is the primary social media platform in China apart from Weibo. Twitter and YouTube remain blocked in China.

In one such video, Zhan was heard saying - "I can’t find anything to say except that the city is paralysed because everything is under cover. That’s what this country is facing now … They imprison us in the name of pandemic prevention and restrict our freedom. We must not talk to strangers, it’s dangerous. So without the truth, everything is meaningless. If we cannot get to the truth, if we cannot break the monopoly of the truth, the world means nothing to us.”

After she was detained in May 2020, Zhan went on a hunger strike to protest her conviction and treatment in prison. One of her lawyers stated that when he met her in late 2020, Zhan had lost a significant amount of weight and had a tube in her nose for force feeding. Furthermore, her hands had been tied so that she cannot remove the feeding tube.

Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, China's Wuhan was detected as the source of the pandemic. Since then, speculations have been made regarding the leaking of the virus and the efforts Beijing made to cover it up.

As per a latest report by Daily Mail UK< US lawmakers have found "Credible information" which states that the virus had leaked from a lab in Wuhan. As per a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken by the members of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, the lawmakers have claimed that the information accessed by them shows COVID leaked due to a lab-related accident, which was then covered up by the communist government.

Zhang Zhan To Be Released Today

As per the court verdict on her case, Zhang Zhan will be completing her sentence on Monday. As her family and many others await the journalist's release, various human rights groups have called for her timely release.

"It’s a relief to know that Zhang is being released, given her very poor health in prison, but she shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place. Her imprisonment should remind us all that the Chinese government is yet to be held accountable for covering up the Covid-19 outbreak, or for the abuses associated with its draconian pandemic restrictions," stated Maya Wang, the associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Despite her sentence scheduled to end on May 13, many have feared the Zhan will not be "fully released" from jail.

One of the former lawyers on her case has listed out two outcomes - one is that she will be sent home and reunited with her family and friends.

The other outcome is that Zhan will be sent to a "soft prison" for at least three months. During this, she will not be allowed to establish any contact with the outside world, nor would she be allowed to move anywhere.

UK based advocate Jane Wang, who is part of the Free Zhang Zhan campaign stated that she is yet to hear news regarding Zhan's release from prison.