China is not only our world’s most populated country but also one of our most repressive. From its overused death penalty, to its (previous) one-child policy, and its outrageous traffic laws, the nation has a reputation for being despotic. Its government has little to no regard for human rights, and journalists are unfortunately no exception. The country joins the list of other Asian nations like Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Philippines in its consistent violence against reporters. China is named the “world’s biggest captor of journalists,” with 128 journalists currently detained and hundreds more missing.
Wuhan, China, COVID’s birthplace, was a popular scene amongst journalists. One of these traveling journalists was 38-year-old, Zhang Zhan. Zhan- a Chinese citizen and former lawyer- was drawn to Wuhan when she heard of the horrors occurring in the city, and quickly began sharing what was transpiring. She documented what was happening in hospitals and schools via social media, with posts and live streams. Her reports became quite popular as she grew an engaging audience, for the world was itching to know of the state of our pandemic’s origins.
The Chinese authorities did not hesitate in meeting Zhan with unsettling threats to not only her, but her family, and in May of 2020 Zhan’s whereabouts became unknown. It was not until June, that it was announced she was detained in Shanghai and not only charged but convicted (in a false trial) of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble-” a charge that is commonly used to silence activists. Zhan underwent a hunger strike to protest her arrest and by the time of her actual trial in December, her body was so unbelievably frail that she appeared in court in a wheelchair. Zhan’s refusal to eat compelled authorities to force-feed her; they had even restrained her for days at a time to prevent her from removing a feeding tube. Authorities also confined her with shackles and handcuffs all day and night for four months straight as a punishment for her hunger strike.
Zhan’s story is just one of many. China has routinely mistreated its activists. Liu Xiaobo, the human rights activist, was a victim of Chinese authorities, for they prohibited his medical treatment, even with his diagnosis of cancer. He died in July of 2017, not long after the death of Yang Tianshui, a journalist who routinely criticized the government. Tianshui died just weeks after being paroled, for it was his medical treatment, or rather lack of it, that caused his parole. Activist, Cao Shunli, was another who died at the hands of the Chinese government. Shunli suffered internal injuries and requested treatment time and time again but was denied and later died in jail. And most recently was Kunchok Jinpa, a leading media source, who died while in custody due to mistreatment.
The Chinese government has taken advantage of the delicate times we live in with the COVID-19 pandemic- and has increased its censorship, allowing the world to know less and less of the horrors contained within its borders. The country doesn’t only restrict information from being released, but from being absorbed, for they have comprehensive internet restrictions, Not only are sites blocked but monitored, with the government surveilling your virtual footsteps. China is ranked #1 in many things, but freedom of the press is definitely not one of them.