A mainland Chinese citizen journalist who is in jail for reporting on the pandemic in Wuhan, Hubei province, has received an honorary title for freedom of expression awarded by two Brussels universities.
Zhang Zhan was honored on the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day on Monday, about a year after she was arrested for posting on social media platforms information about the families of COVID-19 patients and hospitals’ handling of cases in Wuhan, where the infections were first detected.
Authorities have not allowed Zhang’s mother to visit or write to her since she was formally sentenced to four years in prison last December on a conviction of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” with her Wuhan coverage.
Her award, the Difference Day Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression, comes from Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Université libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium.
Wang Jianhong, a spokesperson for the Zhang Zhan Concern Group, received the prize on her behalf.
“‘Do not let China regress into another North Korea.’ This is a message to the world from Zhang Zhan,” Wang said in a speech at the ceremony.
“Even with natural disasters, government cover-ups result in undue panic, unnecessary deaths and unvented grief, making human suffering even more unbearable.”
The citizen journalist witnessed the muted anguish of people in Wuhan, and people hoped for truth and justice so that they could heal, Wang said.
She called on the public not to give up, reminding people that another citizen journalist, Fang Bin, was still missing.
In the middle of February last year, Zhang traveled from Shanghai to the hard-hit city of Wuhan and reported about the disease situation on the ground through Weibo, Twitter and YouTube. She is believed to be kept in a Shanghai women’s jail.
Fang was arrested in the same month for livestreaming the chaos and fatalities from the coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan. Radio Free Asia, citing sources, reported in March that he would be prosecuted for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after authorities withdrew the more serious offense of “inciting subversion of state power.”
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