China jails citizen journalist for early Wuhan outbreak reports

SHANGHAI: A Chinese court handed a four-year jail term yesterday to a citizen journalist who reported from the central city of Wuhan at the peak of last year's outbreak, on grounds of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", her lawyer said.

Zhang Zhan, 37, the first such person known to have been tried, was among a handful of people whose first-hand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the epicentre than the official narrative.

"I don't understand. All she did was say a few true words, and for that she got four years," said Madam Shao Wenxia, Zhang's mother, who attended the trial with her husband.

Zhang's lawyer, Mr Ren Quanniu, told Reuters she will "probably appeal".

"Ms Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech," he had said before the trial.

Meanwhile, 10 people from Hong Kong faced charges in a mainland court that include illegal border crossing after a boat they were travelling in was intercepted en route to Taiwan.

Chinese authorities detained the 11 males and one female at sea on Aug 23. The youngest is 16.

The 12, who had all faced charges in Hong Kong linked to anti-government protests, have been held virtually incommunicado in a mainland prison.

Officials, who have described the group as separatists, said two of them would have a separate hearing as they are minors.

All face charges of illegal border crossing and organising an illicit border crossing, which could mean up to seven years in jail. - REUTERS