China detains journalist Zhang Zhan for reporting Wuhan's COVID-19 outbreak

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan.
Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan. Photo credit: Getty / Chinese Human Rights Defenders

A Chinese citizen journalist is facing up to five years in jail for reporting on the government's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Zhang Zhan, 37, a former lawyer, has been held at a detainment facility in Shanghai on charges of spreading false information since May.

Indictment papers released on Monday accused her of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble".

The papers stated she had been "sending false information through text, video and other media through the Internet such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube".

"She also accepted interviews from overseas media Free Radio Asia and maliciously speculated on Wuhan's COVID-19 epidemic."

The former lawyer was previously detained in 2018, and for voicing her support for Hong Kong activists in 2019.

"Zhang Zhan has long been active in speaking out about politics and the human rights situation in China, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders website wrote.

"She has been repeatedly harassed and threatened by the authorities."

"In 2019, she spoke out about the Hong Kong protests by posting comments, writing articles and holding placards to support the protests."

"In September 2019, she was summoned by Shanghai police and was later criminally detained and arrested on suspicion of 'picking quarrels' for her support for Hong Kong."

Zhang was reportedly forced to undergo psychiatric examination twice during her detention in Shanghai.

This is not the first time a journalist has been arrested after travelling to Wuhan to report on the virus, according to The Guardian.

Chen Qiushi, human rights lawyer turned journalist disappeared in February while reporting on China's early response to COVID-19.

Li Zehua, who travelled to Wuhan to report on Chen's disappearance, went missing in early February but was released in April.

Wuhan resident Fang Bin went missing at the same time and has not been seen since.