The crushing weight of Chinese Covid censorship

The crushing weight of Chinese Covid censorship

 It comes as no surprise that Zhang Zhan has received a hefty sentence, said Patrick Zoll in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Zurich). This courageous citizen journalist travelled from her home in Shanghai to report on the confused conditions in Wuhan during the early stages of the pandemic last year. 

Her “shaky videos” of “chaotic conditions” – overcrowded emergency rooms, overworked crematoria and desperate people besieging health officials – “contradicted official propaganda, which tried to pretend that everything was under control”. Last week Zhang, 37, a former lawyer, was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a broadly defined offence which is often used to stifle dissent. Although in poor health – she attended the hearing in a wheelchair – Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison. “China’s rulers are making it abundantly clear that they won’t share their monopoly of opinion with anyone.” For a brief period after lockdown was imposed in Wuhan, a wave of journalists, professional and amateur, flocked there to “share residents’ raw accounts of terror and fury”, said Vivian Wang in The New York Times. 

In March, when Communist Party officials said that residents should undergo “gratitude education” to thank the government for its efforts, Zhang walked through the streets “asking passers-by if they felt grateful”. Many ignored her; those that did speak asked her to point the camera at their feet. She was arrested in May, and has been on hunger strike for much of the time since. She is the first citizen journalist to be convicted by China’s notoriously compliant courts – where the conviction rate is higher than 99% – but scores of others have also been detained. Western opinion-makers should stop exploiting this case, said Hu Xijin in the state-run Global Times (Beijing). Zhang has violated Chinese laws. She went to Wuhan “to make trouble”, and what’s more, her analysis was quite wrong. “The system Zhang resisted decisively controlled the epidemic.” Just compare the mortality rate in China to the US or Europe. The Communist Party has always ruthlessly repressed dissenting voices, said Jerome A. Cohen in the South China Morning Post. But the severe sentence, and Zhang’s brave refusal to “confess”, make this case remarkable. It shows how sensitive China is about the origins of the pandemic – which is a matter that deeply concerns us all. Zhang has effectively martyred herself “in the cause of free speech” in China. The world should sit up and take notice.

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