US and EU demand China release citizen reporter Zhang Zhan, locked up for covering Wuhan coronavirus outbreak

Jacob Fromer
·3-min read

The United States and European Union both denounced China’s court system on Tuesday after a citizen journalist who reported on the early coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was sentenced to four years in prison.

“The United States strongly condemns the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sham prosecution and conviction of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan on December 28,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “We call on the PRC government to release her immediately and unconditionally.”

A court in Shanghai found Zhang guilty Monday of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a broadly defined offence which carries a maximum sentence of five years and is often used by police to stifle dissent.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

“Her hasty trial, to which foreign observers were denied access, shows how fearful the CCP is of Chinese citizens who speak the truth,” Pompeo said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to release Zhang Zhen “immediately and unconditionally”. Photo: AFP via Getty Images/TNS
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to release Zhang Zhen “immediately and unconditionally”. Photo: AFP via Getty Images/TNS

Separately, an EU foreign policy spokesman, Peter Stano, also condemned the treatment of Zhang, saying that she had reportedly been “subject to torture and ill-treatment during her detention and her health condition has seriously deteriorated”.

Zhang attended her trial in a wheelchair, her lawyer said on Monday, following reports that she had tried to engage in a hunger strike while in custody.

“It is crucial that she receives adequate medical assistance,” Stano said.

Here’s what we know about the trial of the Hong Kong fugitives

Zhang’s sentencing on Monday came on the same day that another trial was held in Shenzhen for 10 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, among a group of 12 who had tried to flee the city via speedboat to Taiwan in August but were detained at sea by Chinese authorities.

The EU condemned that trial as well. The court said a ruling would be handed down at a later date.

“The defendants’ rights to a fair trial and due process – in accordance with international human rights law and as provided by China’s Criminal Procedure Law – have not been respected,” Stano said in a separate statement.

“The European Union calls for the immediate release of these 12 individuals and their swift return to Hong Kong.”

Both cases demonstrate the difficult position the US and EU find themselves in as they try to balance their trade interests with China while criticising Beijing’s human rights record.

Even as it condemned the two court cases on Tuesday, the EU was moving to lock down a major new investment deal with Beijing.

The bloc continued to move forward on it despite pressure from human rights activists over China’s policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and a new insistence from the US, where the incoming Biden administration has described US alliances as vital to countering China.

China-EU investment deal: Xi Jinping and European leaders set for final push to seal agreement

Still, China’s relations with Europe and the US have deteriorated this year, in part at least because of China’s initial handling of the first outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, during which it censored and arrested people for criticising the government and reporting on the widening outbreak.

China was also identified as the No 1 jailer of journalists globally in 2020, the second year in a row, according to an analysis this month by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom organisation.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

More from South China Morning Post:

This article US and EU demand China release citizen reporter Zhang Zhan, locked up for covering Wuhan coronavirus outbreak first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.