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  • Zhang Zhan is one of a number of people facing trial for exposing the initial chaos of Wuhan’s COVID-19 response.

CNB News – A citizen journalist who reported from Wuhan at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in China was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday.

Zhang Zhan, 37, was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to multiple reports. Her closed-door trial lasted less than three hours.

The charge is regularly used by the Chinese government against human rights activists and other dissidents.

During her trial on Monday, her attorney, Zhang Keke, said that she told the court “the government should not censor the speech of its citizens,”

Prosecutors in their indictment of Zhang accused her of “publishing large amounts of fake information” and receiving interviews from international media outlets to “maliciously stir up the Wuhan Covid-19 epidemic situation,” CNN reported.

Her attorney said prosecutors failed to display evidence of the “fake information” that she is accused of lying about in her reports.

Zhang, who is 37, began a hunger strike in June, according to her lawyers, and has been force-fed via a nasal tube as concerns grow about her health.

“She said when I visited her (last week): ‘If they give me a heavy sentence then I will refuse food until the very end’… She thinks she will die in prison,” Ren said. “It’s an extreme method of protesting against this society and this environment.”

Her attorney said she attended the Monday hearing in a wheelchair.

Several independent journalists have been detained over their coverage of the outbreak in Wuhan. Zhang is the first to be sentenced to prison.

At least nine protesters were also arrested during demonstrations outside the Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Court, where Zhang’s case was tried.

The People’s Court of Yantian District in Shenzhen, China, also announced on Monday that a hearing for 10 members of the so-called Hong Kong 12, a group of protesters who were caught at sea while fleeing the ongoing crackdown in Hong Kong, took place in the afternoon. The court said it has not yet decided when to announce its ruling publicly.

The U.S. Embassy in China has called for the release of the detainees.

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