When Wuhan – then the centre of the Covid-19 outbreak in China – went into lockdown, Zhang Zhan was one of the few citizen journalists to report on the unfolding crisis.
Determined to get the truth out, the former lawyer travelled to the beleaguered city in February 2020. She took to social media, reporting how government of cials had detained independent reporters and harassed families of Covid-19 patients. Citizen journalists were the only source of uncensored, rst-hand information about the epidemic.
Working independently of state-controlled media, citizen journalists face constant harassment for exposing information the government would rather keep quiet.
Zhang Zhan went missing in Wuhan in May 2020. Authorities later con rmed that she had been held by police in Shanghai, 640km away. In June 2020, she began a hunger strike to protest her detention. In December, her body was so weak she had to attend her court hearing in a wheelchair. The judge sentenced her to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
Zhang Zhan was transferred to Shanghai Women’s Prison in March 2021. The authorities continue to refuse her family visits. “We should seek the truth and seek it at all costs,” Zhang Zhan has said. “Truth has always been the most expensive thing in the world. It is our life.”
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Dear President Xi,
Zhang Zhan typifies the courage of investigative journalists who speak truth to power. Citizen journalists like her were the only source of uncensored, independent, and first-hand information about the coronavirus outbreak, publishing reports on social media and the internet despite constant harassment and repression.
Yet, instead of being praised, Zhang Zhan received four years’ imprisonment for daring to report what she saw.
If the Chinese authorities are serious about combating Covid-19 and preventing similar outbreaks from happening again, they must stop censorship and respect freedom of expression – free Zhang Zhan immediately and unconditionally.
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President Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
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T O : Zhang Zhan