By Ismail Auwal
A citizen journalist in Wuhan has been sentenced to four years in prison for reporting to the world about the coronavirus outbreak at the early phase of the pandemic in China.
The 37-year old journalist Court was the first person to face trial for reporting about the crowdedness of Wuhan hospitals and how empty the streets were.
In the report, she uploaded a short video clip to YouTube, which consists of interviews with residents, commentary and footage of a crematorium, train stations, hospitals and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Detained in mid-May, she went on a hunger strike in late June, court documents seen by Reuters say. Her lawyers told the court that police strapped her hands and force-fed her with a tube.
By December, she was suffering headaches, giddiness, stomach ache, low blood pressure and a throat infection.
Zhang’s lawyer Ren Quanniu told Reuters: “We will probably appeal.”
The trial was held at a court in Pudong, a district of the business hub of Shanghai.
“Ms Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech,” Ren had said before the trial.
Critics say that China deliberately arranged for Zhang’s trial to take place during the Western holiday season to minimize Western attention and scrutiny.
U.S. President Donald Trump has regularly criticised Beijing for covering up the emergence of what he calls the “China virus”.
The United Nations Human Rights Office called, in a tweet, for Zhang’s release.
“We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release,” it said.