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China jails citizen journalist who covered Wuhan outbreak

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China on Monday handed down a heavy jail sentence to a citizen journalist who reported on the outbreak of the coronavirus from Wuhan.

Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer based in Shanghai, was sentenced to four years in prison by the Pudong New Area People’s Court for her reports from the virus’s initial epicentre, according to her lawyer.

In videos widely shared online, Zhang showcased overcrowded crematoriums and hospitals as the central Chinese city of over 11 million struggled to contain Covid-19 in its early days in February.

Zhang was convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catchall charge frequently used to silence critics of the government.

Although Zhang’s trial is the first of a journalist covering the coronavirus outbreak, it is unlikely to be the last.

Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin, and Li Zehua, fellow citizen journalists who reported from Wuhan, have all been missing since February.

China has been heavily criticized over its initial handling of the virus and accused of secretive behaviour, but appears to be seeking to reframe the narrative of the outbreak.

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A team of ten World Health Organization scientists is expected to travel to Wuhan to investigate the outbreak next month, in spite of Beijing’s earlier reluctance to agree to an independent investigation.

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