Zhang Zhan: EU demands China release citizen journalist jailed over Wuhan virus reports

<p>An image of Zhang Zhan from an undated video</p> (AFP via Getty images )

An image of Zhang Zhan from an undated video

(AFP via Getty images )

The European Union has demanded the immediate release of a Chinese citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan, who was on Monday sentenced to four years imprisonment for her reports on the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

In a statement, the EU noted that restrictions on freedom of expression, on access to information, and intimidation and surveillance of journalists, as well as detentions, trials and sentencing of human rights defenders, lawyers, and intellectuals in China, “are growing and continue to be a source of great concern”.

“According to credible sources, Ms Zhang has been subject to torture and ill-treatment during her detention and her health condition has seriously deteriorated. It is crucial that she receives adequate medical assistance,” said an EU spokesperson.

On Monday, the Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Court sentenced Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, to four years of imprisonment for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble". She was detained in May and was formally indicted last month on charges of spreading false information about Covid-19 – charges that she had denied.

She had been reporting about the pandemic in Wuhan and highlighted several Covid-19 related stories on her social media accounts including the impact of the pandemic on local businesses. She had also reported about the harassment of families of victims who sought accountability from the Chinese government over the coronavirus outbreak.

Following her sentence, her lawyer had told Reuters news agency that they will appeal against it as “Ms Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech.”

The demand comes as China and the EU moved closer to signing a major trade and investment deal.

In its statement the EU also sought the immediate release of Yu Wensheng, and other detained and convicted human rights defenders, including Li Yuhan, Huang Qi, Ge Jueping, Qin Yongmin, Gao Zhisheng, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Wu Gan, Liu Feiyue, as well as all those who have engaged in reporting activities in the public interest.

On 13 December, the Jiangsu Higher People’s Court had confirmed the four years’ imprisonment of Mr Yu, a prominent human rights lawyer, without giving his defence lawyers a chance to present a defence statement.

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