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Chinese citizen journalist praised for ‘reporting the truth’ of Wuhan’s COVID-19 outbreak receives four-year jail sentence



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A Chinese citizen journalist who reported from Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus pandemic began, has been sentenced Monday to four years in prison after “reporting the truth” about the outbreak, her lawyer confirmed.

Zhang Zhan was one of a number of citizen journalists whose eyewitness reports from when the virus first appeared about a year ago presented a more grim depiction of the early stage of the pandemic, such as jam-packed hospitals and empty streets, which contradicted the official narrative of the country’s authoritarian government.

Back in early February, Zhang traveled from her home city of Shanghai to Wuhan in order to document how the city was handling the virus outbreak in a series of posts online. Some of her posts were critical of the Chinese government’s response.

It was in May that Zhang was arrested, being accused of spreading false information, disrupting social order, giving interviews to foreign media, and criticizing the government.

China has censored criticism toward its handling of the coronavirus early on in the pandemic. Whistleblowers, especially doctors, have been told not to speak out.

The international community has been especially critical of China’s censoring of journalists and whistleblowers and the country’s handling of the early outbreaks which then spread across the entire globe.

Zhang was sentenced to jail Monday on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” her lawyer, Zhang Keke, who is not related to the 37-year-old, told NBC News on Monday. Zhang did not speak or display any reaction to the court’s ruling, her lawyer mentioned, also saying that, when she was asked if she wanted to appeal her sentence, she offered no answer.

Prior to the delivering of Zhang’s sentence, her lawyer said the citizen journalist went “on long-term hunger strike” in detention and was being force-fed, NBC News reports.

He said Zhang was “physically fragile,” and suffered from dizziness and headaches, per NBC News.

“When I met her days ago, her hands were tied to the waist and a nasogastric tube was inserted in her nose,” he said, emphasizing that his client has not pleaded guilty, according to NBC News.

“She has a strong will,” he added.

Also before the trial, which concluded at 12:30 pm local time, The Daily Mail reports her lawyer saying: ‘Ms. Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech.’

According to the The Mail‘s Monday report, a New York-based human rights organization had earlier told MailOnline that Zhang was being punished ‘for doing exactly what the world desperately needed: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan’.

Earlier this month, the human rights organization Amnesty International elevated the story of Zhang, raising concerns about the citizen journalist’s health and the “risk of further torture and other ill-treatment”.

On Monday morning, the United Nations Human Rights office tweeted that it was “deeply concerned by” Zhang’s four-year sentence, saying that her case is “an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to” COVID-19. The account added that it would continue to call for her release from prison.

The international community has largely accused China, a one-party communist state, of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying its response at the beginning of the outbreak, allowing the deadly virus to wreak havoc across the world. Despite there being more than 80 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, the country’s health officials claim they have only recorded 86,976 cases since the start of the pandemic.

During the early stages of the outbreak in China, government authorities went after many doctors in Wuhan after they tried to warn the public about the novel deadly virus. The most infamous case was that of Dr. Li Wenliang, who later reportedly succumbed to the coronavirus in early February.

RELATED: Chinese Doctor Who Blew The Whistle On Coronavirus Dies

Want more details of the story? Then read the full reports from NBC News here and The Daily Mail here.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Biden to lift sanctions on China in exchange for third promise to combat fentanyl



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Reportedly President Joe Biden is making deals with Chinese President Xi Jinping to help improve anti-drug trafficking measures. China is one of the top fentanyl producers and distributors, culminating in a pandemic of fentanyl overdoses and deaths in the United States.

The Biden administration will be lifting sanctions on a Chinese government ministry, in exchange for bolstering anti-drug trafficking measures, Bloomberg reported. “We’re hoping to see some progress on that issue this coming week,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday, according to the New York Post. “That could then open the door to further cooperation on other issues where we aren’t just managing things, but we’re actually delivering tangible results.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation noted that should a deal materialize, it will be at least the third time that China has promised to get tough on fentanyl. In 2016, China agreed to increase counter-narcotics operations, and Xi again agreed to launch a crackdown in 2018. Nonetheless, China and Mexico are “the primary source countries for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the United States,” according to a 2020 DEA intelligence report.

“China remains the primary source of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations environment, as well as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States.”

President Joe Biden and Xi are meeting for the first time in over a year during this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco. Sources familiar with the situation told Bloomberg that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will crack down on Chinese companies manufacturing chemical precursors for fentanyl in exchange for the U.S. lifting sanctions on the Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science, which the Commerce Department added to the Entity List in 2020 for “engaging in human rights violations and abuses” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

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