COVID-19 whistleblower's status unknown after 4-year prison term


Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was expected to be released on May 13 after spending four years behind bars for documenting the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, but her current status remains unknown.

Key points:

  • Zhang's videos documented crowded hospitals, empty streets and interviews with Wuhan residents in lockdown.

  • Her content countered the Chinese government's official narrative of how it was handling the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Detained in May 2020, she was charged with the vague offense of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble."

  • Reports of hunger strikes, force-feeding and a dramatic weight loss during her imprisonment sparked concerns about Zhang's health over the years.

The details:

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  • Zhang, a former lawyer, traveled from Shanghai to Wuhan to document events as COVID-19 took over the city in early 2020. She posted unfiltered reports on Chinese social media, as well as YouTube, which is banned in China.

  • Her reports, which offered a rare glimpse into the early extent of the outbreak, eventually gained traction. She also wrote essays critical of the Chinese government response.

  • Zhang's family and rights groups were expecting her release on May 13 based on a court verdict they obtained. But as of Monday evening, advocates lamented that there had been no confirmation whether she was able to walk free.

  • Activist Jane Wang, who heads the U.K.-based Free Zhang Zhan campaign, expressed concerns about Zhang's condition.

“Zhang Zhan should have regained her freedom. We should have heard from her or her family by now. Instead, we are left wondering where she is, how she is doing physically and mentally, what’s happened to her family and what the future holds for her:”

  • Zhang's family has reportedly faced pressure from authorities to remain silent, adding to the uncertainty surrounding her situation.


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