Chinese Authorities Arrest Citizen Journalist for Reporting About CCP Virus in Wuhan

June 22, 2020 Updated: June 22, 2020

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who traveled to Wuhan to report on the outbreak of the CCP virus, was recently arrested, becoming the fourth known independent journalist to be silenced by authorities for attempting to document the effects of the pandemic.

Zhang’s arrest was reported on June 20 by Weiquanwang, a Chinese website devoted to news about human rights activists. It stated that local authorities arrested Zhang on June 19, after the prosecutor’s office in Pudong, a district in Shanghai, approved her arrest on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

It added that Zhang was being held at the Pudong New District detention center. Zhang’s arrest also was reported by U.S.-based rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

A month earlier, Zhang had gone missing. The police bureau in Pudong said in a May 15 notice that she was being detained, according to CHRD.

Paris-based nonprofit Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that as of May 26, she was still being detained in Shanghai.

Zhang, a Pudong resident, was a human rights lawyer until her license was revoked by local authorities after she had participated in a petition drive in 2017 that sought amendments on a local administrative law on lawyers.

After arriving in Wuhan in early February, Zhang became a video journalist, posting reports on her WeChat account, Twitter, and YouTube.

On May 13, Zhang posted a YouTube video in which she spoke in front of the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan. In the video, she criticized the local government’s plan to roll out virus testing at $180 yuan (about $25) per person as too high a price, noting that locals had been under lockdown for months.

She added that while human rights have been trampled during the outbreak, people would likely be willing to foot the bill in hopes of proving they were virus free. In order to pass security checkpoints in many cities, citizens must present a mobile-app-generated code that proves they are virus-free.

She also called out intimidation tactics adopted by Wuhan authorities to try to control the spread of the virus, saying they were a “sorrow of the country.”

A day later, she went missing.

Rights groups had expressed their concern about Zhang’s detention.

“China professes pride in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but appears deathly afraid of allowing independent journalists like Zhang Zhan to freely tell the story of what is happening,” Steven Butler, Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asian Program coordinator, said in a statement.

“Chinese authorities should free Zhang immediately and allow her to continue the important work of documenting the impact of the disease.”

RSF stated that the whereabouts of two independent journalists, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, remain unknown, after they were both arrested in early February in Wuhan.

Another citizen journalist, Li Zehua, resurfaced in late April, posting a YouTube video saying he had been forcibly quarantined; he had gone missing for almost two months.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer