Chinese journalist faces imprisonment of up to 5 years for reporting on COVID-19 outbreak

London: In another move by China to curb freedom of expression, a citizen journalist from China, who has been detained since May for reporting the COVID-19 outbreak from Wuhan, is facing a sentence of up to five years in jail after she was formally indicted on charges of spreading false information.

Zhang Zhan, who is a former lawyer, is being held in a detention facility in Shanghai after being arrested for over six months as she reported on the virus outbreak, reported The Guardian.

Furthermore, Zhang was accused of ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’. These accusations are frequently used against critics and activists in China.

According to the prosecution document, the indictment sheet on Monday claimed that Zhang had sent formal information through text, video and other media through the Internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and Youtube.

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“She also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and Epoch Times and maliciously speculated on Wuhan’s COVID-19 epidemic,” it said.

The Guardian reported that the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) had stated that Zhang’s reports included ‘the detentions of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicentre via her WeChat, Twitter and YouTube accounts’.

The CHRD further mentioned that she was also previously detained on similar accusations by Chinese authorities in 2018 and in the following year for voicing support for Hong Kong activists.

Zhang is among the several journalists who have been arrested this year after travelling to Wuhan to report on the virus outbreak and response, reported The Guardian.

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Several journalists have been arrested in China after the national security law was implemented in Hong Kong this year.

The draconian law is aimed at crushing dissent in the erstwhile British colony which saw massive pro-democracy protests last year. The legislation, which came into effect on July 1, punishes what Beijing terms secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference with up to life in prison.

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