Zhang Zhan is one of many facing trial for exposing the initial chaos of the COVID-19 response in Wuhan.
Chinese citizen journalist detained since May for reporting live from Wuhan as COVID-19 outbreak unfolded due to trial on Monday, nearly a year after details of “unknown viral pneumonia” surfaced in the central city of China.
Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, could face up to five years in prison if convicted of “quarreling and causing unrest” for her reporting in the chaotic initial stages of the epidemic.
His live reports and essays were shared widely on social media platforms in February, drawing the attention of authorities, who punished eight virus whistleblowers as they tried to root out criticism of the government’s response. to the epidemic.
A dozen supporters and diplomats gathered outside the Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Court on Monday morning, but police pushed reporters and observers away from the entrance as the accused and his lawyer arrived. .
Zhang, 37, went on a hunger strike in June, according to his lawyers, and was force-fed through a nasal catheter as concerns grew for his health.
“She said when I visited her (last week): ‘If they give me a heavy sentence, I will refuse food until the very end’… She thinks she will die in prison,” he said. said Ren Quanniu, one of Zhang’s defense attorneys.
“It is an extreme method of protesting against this society and this environment.”
‘Every day a torment’
Chinese Communist authorities have a habit of bringing dissidents to justice between Christmas and New Years to minimize Western control.
The trial comes a few weeks before a international team experts from the World Health Organization are expected to arrive in China to investigate the origins of the pandemic.
Another lawyer said that Zhang’s health was in decline and that she suffered from headaches, dizziness, and upset stomach.
“Detained 24 hours a day, she needs help going to the bathroom,” wrote Zhang Keke, who visited her on Christmas Day, in a note posted on social media.
“She feels psychologically exhausted, as if every day is a torment.”
He said Zhang pledged not to stop his hunger strike despite repeated calls from family, friends and lawyers.
Prosecutors have called for her to be jailed for between four and five years, but she has always maintained her innocence.
Zhang criticized the early response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government “didn’t give people enough information and then just locked the city down.”
“It is a serious violation of human rights,” she wrote.
Human rights groups have also drawn attention to Zhang’s case.
Authorities “want to use his case as an example to dissuade other dissidents from raising questions about the pandemic situation in Wuhan earlier this year,” said Leo Lan, research and advocacy consultant at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders NGO. human rights.
Zhang is the first to stand trial against a group of four citizen journalists detained by authorities earlier this year after Wuhan report.
Previous attempts by the AFP news agency to contact the other three – Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua – have failed.