Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist who was arrested in May while reporting from Wuhan, was sentenced to four years in jail.
Zhang was arrested for “sparking fights and causing trouble,” a charge commonly used against dissidents, activists and journalists, with her videos and blog reports on the Wuhan closure. Last month, she was accused of spreading false information.
On Monday afternoon, a few hours after the trial began, Zhang’s lawyer said that she had been sentenced to four years in prison.
The prosecution of 10 Hong Kongers detained in mainland China after allegedly trying to flee to Taiwan also began on Monday, amid a spate of arrests and other crackdowns on dissidents, apparently timed to the Christmas period to avoid Western scrutiny.
The indictment sheet released last week said that Zhang had sent “false information through text, video and other means via Internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube,” according to the indictment document.
“He also accepted interviews from foreign media Free Radio Asia and The Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on the Wuhan Covid-19 epidemic,” he said. A sentence of four to five years was recommended.
Zhang has been restrained 24 hours a day and force-fed with a tube after she went on a hunger strike, her lawyer, Zhang Keke, said earlier this month. Zhang Keke visited him again on Christmas Day, and in a blog post he said that his client had lost 15-20 kg and cut his hair.
“She feels psychologically drained, as if every day is a torment.”
About a dozen supporters and diplomats had gathered in front of Shanghai’s Pudong New District People’s Court on Monday morning, but the police pushed journalists and observers away from the entrance when Zhang and his lawyer arrived.
Zhang, one of several citizen journalists detained in Wuhan around the same time, denies the charges, saying all of her reports come from first-hand accounts with locals. Citizen journalist Fang Bin was arrested in February, but his place of detention remains secret. Chen Mei and Cai Wei are awaiting trial in Beijing after they were arrested in April for filing censored information about the virus.
Chen Qiushi, detained in Wuhan in February, was released to his parents’ house under close surveillance.
The families of the 10 Hong Kongers detained after allegedly trying to reach Taiwan said they were only informed of the trial on Friday, giving them no time to travel to Shenzhen and complete the quarantine in time to attend. The trial is not broadcast live and the media appears unable to enter the courtroom, making it a “de facto secret trial,” the families said.
“By holding the trial of the 12 in secret, banning the attendance of the media and families, the Chinese authorities are disregarding basic human rights, acting against the principle of ‘radiant judiciary’ that they have been promoting, “they said in a statement Monday. .
RTHK reported from Shenzhen that court officials said the trial was open to the public, but all seats had already been reserved.
Before the trial, the US State Department called for the group’s release, and one official said their only “alleged crime” was “fleeing tyranny.”
The Yantian District People’s Court in Shenzhen announced last week that 10 of the 12 people who were allegedly traveling by boat to Taiwan when they were intercepted by the Guangdong coast guard in August were charged with organizing or participating in an illegal border crossing. The remaining two are minors and would be tried at a later date. Since their arrest, the detainees have been almost completely cut off from contact with their families and banned from seeing their chosen lawyers.
The last-minute trials came amid intense activity by the authorities against dissidents, lawyers and journalists. The Chinese authorities have a history of using the holiday period, when many Western governments and NGOs are on Christmas holidays, to conduct trials and make arrests.
Additional reports from agencies.
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