The United States and European Union demanded China to immediately release citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who was sentenced to four years in prison for her reports on the early outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic from Wuhan.
US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in a statement said he strongly condemned Zhang’s conviction and called for her immediate and unconditional release, accusing the Chinese Communist party (CCP) of restricting and manipulating information about the COVID-19 outbreak.
“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, adding that the US would always support the right of Chinese citizens to express themselves freely.
The EU also called for Zhang’s immediate release, as well as for freedom for the jailed human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and several other detained and convicted human rights defenders and individuals who engaged in reporting in the public interest.
“According to credible sources, Ms. Zhang has been subject to torture and ill-treatment during her detention and her health condition has seriously deteriorated,” an external affairs spokesperson for the EU said in a statement.
A Chinese court handed down the sentence on Monday to Zhang who reported at the peak of the crisis in the city where the coronavirus first emerged. Her lawyer said Zhang was jailed on the grounds of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
Zhang was among a handful of people whose first-hand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the pandemic centre than the official narrative.
Critics say that China deliberately arranged for Zhang’s trial to take place during the holiday season in the west, to minimise scrutiny.
“The restrictions on freedom of expression, on access to information, and intimidation and surveillance of journalists, as well as detentions, trials and sentencing of human rights defenders, lawyers and intellectuals in China, are growing and continue to be a source of great concern,” the EU spokesperson said.
In a statement, the EU also called for the immediate release of the ‘Hong Kong 12’ and their swift return to Hong Kong from Shenzhen, where they went on trial on December 28 in a closed court and without appointed lawyers of their choice.
The EU criticism over the cases comes a day before EU and Chinese leaders are expected to clinch a deal to give European companies better access to the Chinese market. (Source: The Guardian)