Lawyer-turned-citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported on the emerging coronavirus epidemic in February from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has been detained by the Shanghai police.
Zhan, who lives in Shanghai and travelled to Wuhan in early February, was taken away from Wuhan’s Caiguang Hotel on the night of May 14.
When a friend of hers named Tang inquired about her whereabouts the next day, hotel stall told him that she had already checked out the night before.
“I inquired at the front desk, saying I hadn’t been able to reach my friend Zhang Zhan,” Tang said. “The staff at the Caiguang Hotel said she checked out the day before.”
Asked if Zhang had left the hotel alone, the staff only replied that “it’s not convenient to discuss the details,” using a phrase often used by activists to indicate the intervention of the authorities.
Gao Fei, a supporter of Zhang’s from Hubei province, said he had learned that she is being held under criminal detention in Shanghai’s Pudong New District Detention Center, on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
An officer who answered the phone at the Pudong police department declined to comment on Zhang’s case when contacted by RFA on Monday.
Zhang’s detention came after she told RFA she didn’t believe it was safe to keep sending reports to Twitter and YouTube from Wuhan.
“What’s the point of staying safe?” Zhang, who turns 40 this year, said in an interview with RFA last week. “What will you do with that safety? Learn to co-exist with an evil regime?”
“You really shouldn’t concern yourself with this stuff; let them detain me, if that’s what they want to do,” she said. “We’re in prison anywhere in China, whether we’re in jail or on the outside.”
“What difference is there? None, from my point of view.”
In Zhang’s last YouTube video posted on May 13, she had reported on the impact of a huge fall in passenger numbers on the livelihoods of Wuhan’s taxi drivers, as well as loss of employment in the wake of the lockdown among the city’s residents.
She also spoke out against the intimidation of local people by the urban management police, or chengguan, and about a sense of despair at life in China.
The Chinese government has targeted thousands of people for speaking out about the coronavirus epidemic in the country since it began in late December in the central city of Wuhan.
After President Xi Jinping said he would lead “a people’s war” on the epidemic on Jan. 20, police handled 5,111 cases of “fabricating and deliberately disseminating false and harmful information,” according to a Feb. 21 statement from the ministry of public security.
Between Jan. 1 and March 26, nearly 900 internet users were penalized by police for their online speech or info-sharing about the coronavirus epidemic, across almost every province, region, and municipality in China.
Charges used to question, detain, and arrest people included “rumor-mongering,” “fabricating false information,” “sowing panic,” “disturbing public order,” and “breach of privacy.”
Cases in which people were accused of “spreading misinformation” or “disrupting public order” accounted for more than 96 percent of cases, according to the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network. (Source: RFA)