The U.S. state department on Monday, Nov. 8, is stepping in to pressure the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to liberate citizen journalist Zhang Zhan who has been jailed for covering COVID-19 in Wuhan last year.

“The U.S. is deeply concerned about the health of PRC [People’s Republic of China] journalist Ms. Zhang Zhan,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Over the weekend, the family of journalist, 38-year-old Zhang Zhan, appealed to social media about her dire situation after a year of being imprisoned by the CCP for questioning how it handled the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

According to her brother, Zhan was force-fed after going on a hunger strike for a peaceful protest. The method is a form of torture commonly used against Uyghurs and other religious prisoners. As a result, she was emaciated and was on the verge of dying.

“We reiterate our call to the PRC for her immediate and unconditional release and for Beijing to respect a free press & the right of people to express themselves freely,” Price added.

Ms. Zhan was detained and sentenced to four years behind bars in May 2020, three months after reporting COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan with her smartphone. AFP reported she was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a popular conviction against dissent.

According to the BBC, her family has applied for medical parole because she may not survive the winter. Her brother, though, was not positive the local authorities would accept it.

Zhang was not the only journalist facing severe penalties for going after news about the coronavirus pandemic. South China Morning Post said at least three other citizen journalists had faced similar retaliation from the Chinese authorities.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCP tried to cover up information about the lethal virus from the rest of the world. 

Doctors had tried to warn others about the return of a dangerous SARS-like outbreak and remind them to protect themselves. Instead, police responded and forced them to reverse the story as rumors.

Dr. Li Wenliang was among the first who stepped out in Dec. 2019 to discuss the presence of a highly contagious pneumonia disease. Unfortunately, after contracting the virus, he lost his battle with it in Feb. 2020.

Not until Jan. 2020 did the World Health Organization (WHO) declare the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Two months later when coronavirus started to spread internationally, WHO acknowledged a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

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