Another independent journalist arrested in Wuhan

Wuhan police

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city on May 14, one day after she published a video critical of the government’s countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code.

“China professes pride in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but appears deathly afraid of allowing independent journalists like Zhang Zhan to freely tell the story of what is happening,” said CPJ Asia program coordinator Steven Butler. “Chinese authorities should free Zhang immediately and allow her to continue the important work of documenting the impact of the disease.”

Since arriving in Wuhan in early February, Zhang posted videos including interviews with local business owners who were severely impacted by the pandemic, and with workers who struggled to find employment in the city.

CPJ called the Wuhan Public Security Bureau for comment, but no one answered. An officer at the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau told CPJ to call the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center for information about Zhang’s arrest. CPJ called the center, but no one answered.

Video journalist Chen Quishi, who traveled to Wuhan to report on the pandemic in late January, went missing after telling his family that he planned to visit a temporary hospital on Feb. 6, as CPJ documented at the time.

Freelance journalist Li Zehua, who also went missing in the city after posting two live-stream videos claiming that state security agents were pursuing him on Feb. 26, reappeared two months later claiming that he was quarantined by police because he had been to “sensitive epidemic areas,” according to news reports.

From the Committee to Protect Journalists, May 18

See our last post on the Wuhan crisis.

Photo: China News Service via Wikimedia Common
  1. Strange politics of COVID-era dissent in China

    Liang Yanping, a professor of literary criticism at Hubei University, has been stripped of her position and Communist Party membership for three transgressions:

    1. Voicing support for “Wuhan Diary” blogger Fang Fang (also known as Wang Fang). Good for her.

    2. Voicing support for the Hong Kong protesters. Again, very good.

    3. Forwarding social media posts “that suggested that Japan was justified in invading China,” and denying Japanese war crimes.

    uh… What the fuck?

    From SCMP.

  2. China: detained citizen journalist ‘restrained and fed by tube’

    A citizen journalist detained for more than six months after reporting on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has had a feeding tube forcibly inserted and her arms restrained to stop her pulling it out, her lawyer said. Zhang Zhan, 37, a former lawyer, has been on hunger strike at a detention facility near Shanghai. Zhang was arrested in May and accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” an accusation frequently used against critics and activists in China, after reporting on social media and streaming accounts. Last month she was formally indicted on charges of spreading false information. (The Guardian)

  3. China: detained citizen journalist sentenced to four years

    A Chinese citizen journalist who covered Wuhan’s coronavirus outbreak has been sentenced to four years in prison. Zhang Zhan was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a frequent charge against activists. The 37-year-old former lawyer was detained in May, and has been on hunger strike for several months. Her lawyers say she is in poor health. (BBC News)

  4. Zhang Zhan lashed out at judge during trial: lawyer

    Jailed citizen journalist Zhang Zhan hit back at the judge at her sentencing, according to her lawyer. Zhang, 37, appeared in the Pudong New District People’s Court in a wheelchair on Tuesday after being force-fed during a hunger strike in the Pudong New District Detention Center. Zhang refused to speak when asked by the judge to confirm her personal details, the lawyer said. The judge then instructed the clerk to record that she hadn’t replied, whereupon Zhang retorted: “Doesn’t your conscience tell you that what you are doing is wrong, in putting me in the dock?” (RFA)

  5. WHO rebukes China for blocking investigator entry

    World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus decried China’s last-minute decision to block investigators who are researching the origin of the novel coronavirus. “Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team’s arrivals in China,” Tedros told reporters in a rare rebuke of Beijing. “I am very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute.” (DW)

  6. WHO team finally lands in Wuhan

    More than a year after a new coronavirus first emerged in China, a team of experts from the World Health Organization finally arrived on Jan. 14 in the central city of Wuhan to begin hunting for its source. The Chinese government, notoriously wary of outside scrutiny, has repeatedly impeded the arrival of the team. (NYT)

  7. COVID-19 ‘conspiracy theories’ gain mainstream currency

    The theories that we’ve explored here and here that the COVID-19 virus originated in a laboratory are fast being accepted by the mainstream. Recent media reports are focusing on comments to this effect by Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, which has received NIH funds to cooperate with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in so-called “gain-of-function” research on coronaviruses, also involving Ralph S. Baric of the University of North Carolina. The Washington Post has run a lengthy editorial calling for greater clarity from Chinese authorities in the investigation. The Organic Consumers Association also has a page providing an overiew of such experiments and their possible links to COVID-19.

  8. WHO report leaves question of COVID origins unresolved

    A joint World Health Organization-China report on the origins of the coronavirus says it most probably jumped from animals to humans via an intermediate animal host, and downplays the possibility it leaked from a lab. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN he has concerns about “the methodology and the process,” including “the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it.” 

    The visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology lasted a few hours, according to scientists on the trip. They got a tour of the facility, heard about the lab’s rigorous safety protocols and were told the lab was not working with viruses close to SARS-CoV-2.

    One member of the team said in a post-trip television interview that researchers at the lab were sick in the fall of 2019 —a potentially interesting finding that had been raised by the Trump administration—but then dismissed its relevance and offered little else.

    The final report states there was no direct infection of workers but does not go into detail or recommend further research on the topic.

    It also notes that three laboratories in Wuhan were working with either coronavirus diagnostics or on isolation and vaccine development. All were “high quality” and “well managed,” it said, but it did not specify if the joint mission saw additional evidence, such as audits, to substantiate the claims.

    The report additionally notes that a Wuhan Center for Disease Control lab moved Dec. 2, 2019—a new detail—but that it “reported no disruptions or incidents caused by the move.” (WaPo)

  9. Origins of COVID-19 explored in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

    Acclaimed science writer Nicholas Wade has a rather heretical but inconveniently well-researched piece in a bona fide source, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?” He pokes convincing holes in the media consensus that the virus did not emerge from a laboratory—although even he dares not approach what we may call the MIHOP thesis (that release of the virus was intentional, and some sinister forces “made it happen on purpose”…)

  10. Australian media hype over COVID-19 origin theory

    Sharri Markson reports in The Australian on a 2015 People’s Liberation Army document, The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons, which “predicted a third world war would be fought with biological weapons” and described SARS coronaviruses as heralding a “new era of genetic weapons.” The viruses, it said, could be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before.” Markson’s new book, What Really Happened in Wuhan, will be published in September by HarperCollins.

    While this is receiving much hype in Australia and India (Times of India, The Week Magazine), both countries notoriously on the outs with Beijing, China’s own Global Timeshits back, asserting that the “so-called leaked document obtained by the US State Department” was actually “on sale on Amazon, although it is out of stock.” 

  11. Biden orders investigation of COVID-19 origins

    President Biden announced that he has ordered a closer intelligence review of what he said are two equally plausible origins of the COVID-19 virus—that it “emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” (CNBC) The move comes after Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he is “not convinced” the virus developed naturally. (The Hill) A new US intelligence report notes that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care. (WSJ) Fauci is of course coming under attack in Chinese state media, with the Global Times calling him a “degenerate.” (The Independent)

  12. US intel releases inconclusive report on COVID origins

    US intelligence agencies said on Friday they may never be able to identify the origins of COVID-19, as they released a new, more detailed version of their review of whether the coronavirus came from animal-to-human transmission or leaked from a lab. The paper issued by the Director of National Intelligence elaborates on findings released in August of a 90-day review ordered by President Joe Biden. That review said that US intelligence agencies were divided on the origins of the virus but that analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a bioweapon and that most agencies believe the virus was not genetically engineered. (Reuters, USA Today)

  13. Imprisoned citizen journalist Zhang Zhan ‘close to death’

    A citizen journalist jailed for her coverage of China’s initial response to COVID in Wuhan is close to death after going on hunger strike, her family said, prompting renewed calls from rights groups for her immediate release.

    Zhang Zhan, 38, a former lawyer, travelled to Wuhan in February 2020 to report on the chaos at the pandemic’s epicentre, questioning authorities’ handling of the outbreak in her smartphone videos. She was detained in May 2020 and sentenced in December to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a charge routinely used to suppress dissent.

    She is now severely underweight and “may not live for much longer,” her brother Zhang Ju wrote last week on a Twitter account verified by people close to the matter. (HKFP)

    Zhang Zhan is among a group of four citizen journalists—also including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua—detained after reporting from Wuhan.

  14. Studies find Wuhan animal market likely COVID epicenter

    Two independent studies, published this week in the journal Science, strongly suggest that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Wuhan market where live animals were sold, rather than escaping from a Chinese lab.

    In one study, scientists used mapping tools to estimate the locations of the earliest reported COVID-19 cases from December 2019 through February of 2020. What they found was that the highest density of cases were clustered in and around the market, an indication that the virus started spreading among people who worked there.

    In the second study, scientists analyzed the genomes of viral samples from inside and outside of China during the same time period. They discoverd that two lineages—A and B—indicated the pandemic’s beginning in Wuhan. Lineage A is more genetically similar to bat coronaviruses, but lineage B appears to have begun spreading earlier in humans, particularly at the market.

    The authors say they have not disproven the lab leak theory, but that combined, the pair of studies make the case for the natural origin hypothesis much more likely. (

  15. COVID scientist leads protest outside Chinese lab

    The first scientist to publish a sequence of the COVID-19 virus in China is now protesting outside of his own lab in Shanghai. Zhang Yongzhen wrote in an online post Monday that he and his team had been suddenly notified they were being evicted from their lab, the latest in a series of setbacks, demotions and ousters since the virologist published the sequence in January 2020 without state approval. (PRI)