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Chinese journalist faces up to five years in jail for reporting on COVID-19 and criticising the government over handling of the virus

37-year old Zhang Zhan is a former lawyer accused of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" that is said to be very commonly invoked against critics and activists in China.

A Chinese journalist, Zhang Zhan, who is under detention since May for reporting on the Wuhan virus outbreak has been formally indicted on charges of spreading false information. Zhan is facing up to five years imprisonment. 37-year old Zhan is a former lawyer accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” that is said to be very commonly invoked against critics and activists in China. She is kept in a detention facility in Shanghai.

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), she went missing on May 14 and a day later, it was revealed that she was detained by police in Shanghai. She was formally arrested on June 19 in Shanghai and it was after three months of detention that she as allowed to meet her lawyer. The indictment sheet released on Monday stated that Zhang Zhan had spread false information through text video and other media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube.

She is also accused of accepting interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times maliciously spreading information on Wuhan virus. Zhan is reportedly on a hunger strike since September and one of her defence lawyers has dropped out of her case. Zhan went to Wuhan in February this year where she reported on a number of stories including detention of other independent journalists and the harassment of families of victims who sought accountability.

Zhang Zhan was earlier detained on two occasions

Zhan was detained in 2018 on similar charges. In September 2019 she was summoned by Shanghai police and was later criminally detained and arrested on suspicion of “picking quarrels” for supporting Hong Kong as stated by the CHRD. Before being released in November 2019, she was made to undergo psychiatric examination twice.

Other journalists who were detained

Zhan is not the only one to be arrested for reporting on Wuhan virus, many other journalists have been arrested in this year. Chen Quishi, a former lawyer turned journalist, was arrested in January. Li Zehua was arrested in February after he went to Wuhan to report on the disappearance of Quishi. He was released in April. A Wuhan resident Fang Bin went missing around the same time but has not been heard of ever since.

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