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China's detention of Wuhan journalist 'is a warning to others'

 
New Delhi, Nov 18 (IANS) The detention of Zhang Zhan, the Chinese journalist jailed after reporting on the Covid pandemic in Wuhan, is intended as a "warning to others", her former lawyer said, The Guardian reported.

Hundreds of Chinese human rights lawyers and citizens have put their names to an open letter calling for immediate medical care for Zhang, who her family fear is close to death.

Zhang has been on a hunger strike for more than a year in protest at her persecution for reporting on the Wuhan lockdown in early 2020, the report said.

On Thursday, she was awarded the Reporters Without Borders' 2021 Press Freedom award for courage.

Ren Quanniu, whose legal licence was revoked after he represented Zhang and members of the Hong Kong 12, said it was possible Zhang's severe punishment was "retaliation" against citizen journalists trying to cover the Wuhan outbreak, aimed at sending a message to others given her initial arrest was so widely covered by international media, The Guardian reported.

"The virus issue is indeed very sensitive, including where it came from and what is the situation in Wuhan," he said.

"She went there to do some on-site interviews, and was in contact with Radio Free Asia and the Epoch Times for interviews. Both are viewed by Chinese officials as hostile media."

Ren said the conviction was also the manifestation of China's strict control over journalism, public opinion, and freedom of speech.

"No matter if you are citizen journalists or independent media, things that are so-called 'sensitive' and do not conform to the calibre of propaganda are not allowed to be said. If you make these things public, you may encounter similar results like Zhang Zhan. This is a warning to others," the report added.

Earlier, the US state department has urged China to release citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, expressing deep concerns over her deteriorating health, the BBC reported.

She was given a four-year jail term over her reporting of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan when the pandemic began.

Zhang has been on an intermittent hunger strike since she was detained in May last year, the report said.

The US move comes after reports that she is perilously close to death.

"We have repeatedly expressed our serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her mistreatment during it," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, the report added.

"We reiterate our call to the PRC for her immediate and unconditional release."

--IANS
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