A citizen journalist who traveled to Wuhan to report on the coronavirus outbreak was recently arrested by Chinese police. Zhang Zhan has become the fourth known independent journalist to be silenced by authorities for attempting to document the effects of the pandemic.
Chinese human rights blog Weiquanwang broke the news about Zhang’s arrest on June 20. According to the site, local authorities arrested Zhang on June 19, after the prosecutor’s office in Shanghai’s Pudong district, approved her arrest on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Zhang is currently being held at the Pudong New District detention center.
Zhang’s arrest isn’t the first time she’s gotten in trouble with the Chinese government. In 2017, she had her license to practice law revoked after participating in a petition for amendments to a local administrative law on lawyers.
Zhang arrived in Wuhan in February, acting as a video journalist and posting reports on her WeChat account, as well as on YouTube and Twitter.
On May 13, Zhang posted a video on her YouTube channel of her speaking in front of the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan. Here, she criticized local health authorities’ plan to roll out virus testing at about 180 yuan ($15) per person as being too high a price. She noted that locals had been under lockdown for months and unable to work.
In her video, she added that while human rights had been trampled during the outbreak, people would still be likely to foot the bill to prove that they were virus-free. In Wuhan, citizens must present a mobile-app-generated code showing that they are virus-free to pass security checkpoints.
In addition, she also called out the intimidation tactics that city officials used to try to control the spread of the virus. She specifically called them a “sorrow of the country.”
A day after she posted the video, she went missing.
A couple of days after she disappeared, the Pudong police bureau released a notice stating that Zhang was being detained, according to the U.S. based rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).
Meanwhile, the Paris-based nonprofit Reporters Without Borders said that Zhang was still being detained in Shanghai as of May 26.
Whether her most recent arrest is related to her past detention is currently unknown as of reporting time.
Zhang is the fourth journalist to have been silenced by Chinese authorities in regard to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
The first of these was another human rights lawyer named Chen Qiushi. Similar to Zhang, Chen had also traveled to Wuhan early this year to document the situation in the city. Chen disappeared sometime in early February with friends and family suddenly losing contact with him. They have since claimed that Chen, who has yet to resurface, had been forcibly quarantined by Wuhan police after he published video reports about the outbreak.
Another person who has yet to surface is Fang Bin. Fang had been accusing the government of covering up the true scale of the outbreak in Wuhan up until. Fang was arrested by Wuhan police on February 10, a day after he uploaded his final video, and has not been seen since.
Li Zenhua, on the other hand, was able to live-stream his encounter with Wuhan police when they went to arrest him. He then went silent for two months after the incident, only to emerge in late April. He has since claimed that he spent two weeks “quarantined” in both Wuhan and his hometown.
Chinese censorship has also gone beyond these four citizen journalists. Reports show that even grieving relatives have been silenced by the Chinese government for asking questions about how their loved ones died.
With the Chinese government continuing to cover up the truth about the ongoing outbreak, it’s likely that these will not be the last to be silenced.