張展被捕，並於5月中旬被遣送回上海。在拘留所中她被關押了6個月。11月開庭時，她被指控「尋釁滋事」，這是當局時常用來指控異見人士的罪名。在整個關押期間，張展遭受了酷刑，她一天24小時都戴著手銬。她於6月開始絕食，並被強迫灌食。灌食的管子刮傷了她的嘴、喉嚨和胃。 12月28日，她被判處四年徒刑。張展的母親被允許參加法院庭審， 事後，這位母親說：「我不明白，她只是說了幾句真話，就被判了四年。」
現年35歲的陳秋實先生在成為公民記者之前，是一名人權律師。他於2019年8月去香港，報導了香港的抗議活動。他關於香港的紀錄片，在網上贏得了70萬名追隨者。 2020年1月24日，即武漢實施封城的第二天，他前往這座擁有1100萬人口的城市，試圖製作一部有關新冠病毒的紀錄片。 2月6日，他失踪了。據稱他「被暴力隔離」。 9月18日，他的朋友發佈消息說，他受到當局的監控。另一位未經證實的消息人士說，他在青島父母家中。對於陳秋實的下落，我們仍然沒有可靠的記錄。
Joint Statement: Writers, journalists and publishers muzzled in China during the pandemic
6 April 2021: The COVID-19 pandemic broke out first in China, but China was also the first country to bring it under control. The government applied resolute but often brutal means to eliminate the virus. It adopted the same measures that it used to silence the people who had sent out warnings while the authorities tried to hide the truth at the beginning. Too many Wuhan people died without knowing what had killed them. The whistle-blower Dr. Li Wenliang died from COVID-19 after he was reprimanded by the police for “spreading rumours” about its dangers.
A year on, over 219 countries and territories have been affected. 2.5 million people have died globally of this coronavirus so far. The world economy has stagnated, borders have closed, communications are restricted, people have lost their jobs. There is still no end to the catastrophe.
In China, there are many people who have been persecuted because they have practiced their freedom of expression and posted online information about the coronavirus situation. The following are known cases:
The Shanghai based journalist and lawyer, Ms. Zhang Zhan, 37, hurried to Wuhan on 1 February 2020, one week after the city was locked down. She took pictures of the crowded hospitals, the empty streets, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Nanhai Seafood Market (the supposed original ground zero of Covid-19) the crematoria with smoke ascending day and night. She described the smell of death and fear, agony as well as rage. Zhang uploaded her video clips to YouTube. Her first hand accounts provide a dire picture of a besieged city, a contrast to the official narrative.
Zhang Zhan was arrested and transported back to Shanghai in mid-May. She was kept in a detention centre for 6 months before she was charged in November with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a preferred wording to accuse dissidents. Zhang was tortured and kept in handcuffs 24 hours a day for the entire detention period. She began a hunger strike in June and was forced fed The feeding tube has damaged her mouth, throat and stomach. On Dec. 28, she was sentenced to four years. Zhang’s mother was allowed to attend the trial, she said afterwards “I don’t understand. All she did was say a few true words, and for that she got four years.”
The publisher and businesswoman Ms. Geng Xiaonan has a publishing company in Beijing. Together with her husband they have 9 employees working in the firm. Ms. Geng Xiaonan and her husband were detained on 9 September 2020 and formally arrested a month later. On 9 February 2021, she was sentenced to 3 years and her husband 2 years and 6 months. Their charge was “illegal business activities”. They were accused of illegally preparing 200,000 copies of books for publication. However, the international media believes that she was punished because she spoke out in defending law professor Xu Zhangrun, who has published essays with remarks critical of the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping. Ms. Geng also tried to protect the persecuted COVID-19 reporter Chen Qiushi.
In court, Geng has behaved just as the authority wanted. She told the judge:“I plead guilty to everything that is in the indictment, to everything the prosecution has charged me with…I am grateful to have this precious opportunity here in court to admit my mistakes and to apologise.” Furthermore, she said, “all the evidence that has been read out against me just now is correct. ” She had earlier fired her attorney, a common demand made by the authorities in political cases.
Mr. Chen Qiushi, 35, was a human rights lawyer before he became a citizen-journalist. He went to Hong Kong in August 2019 and covered the Hong Kong protests. His documentary on Hong Kong has won him over 700,000 followers online. On 24 January 2020, a day after the lockdown in Wuhan, he travelled to this city of 11 million and tried to make a documentary about Covid-19. On 6 February he disappeared. It was alleged that he was “quarantined by force”. On 18 September his friend released information that he was under the authorities’ surveillance. Another unconfirmed source said he was in Qingdao at his parents’ house. We still have no reliable account about Chen’s whereabouts.
Mr. Fang Bin is a Wuhan businessman and citizen journalist. He used WeChat and YouTube to disseminate the pictures he took when Wuhan fell into the COVID-19 panic. Between February 1-9 he was caught by the police several times. Finally he disappeared on 9 February. No one knows his current whereabouts.
Mr. Li Zehua, 26, is a professional reporter. He used to work at CCTV. During the pandemic he sneaked to Wuhan, hoping to trace the missing journalist Chen Qiushi. He did not find Chen, yet on his professional initiative he made videos of various Covid-19 hotspots: hospitals, the train station, the cemeteries, the P4 laboratory. He uploaded all the clips onto YouTube until he disappeared on February 26. On April 22 Li posted a video on YouTube and WeChat, explaining that he had been taken to the police station on Feb. 26. There he was detained and quarantined, later he was moved to his home town. Li said in the video that he was released by police on March 28, however there has been no sign of Li Zehua since then.
The cases above are just examples of the suppression of freedom of expression in China. They are only the tip of the iceberg. It is worth noting that China signed the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political rights in 1998 but the People’s Congress has yet to ratify it.
The Peace Committee of PEN International calls on the government of the People’s Republic of China to:
End the persecution of all writers, journalists and scholars who have written or reported about the Covid-19 pandemic, or criticised the government’s handling.
Immediately release all citizen journalists and publishers jailed for reporting or criticising the Wuhan Covid-19 situation, including Zhang Zhan, Geng Xiaonan, her husband Qin Zhen.
Explain the whereabouts of Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua. Guarantee their safety and their right to work.
Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the PRC government in October 1998.
Cease the ill treatment and torture of jailed writers, journalists, and all other political prisoners.