A Chinese court on Monday sentenced Zhang Zan, a 37-year-old Christian and citizen journalist, to four years in prison for her coverage of COVID-19 in the epicenter city, Wuhan.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Zhang's release, condemned the Chinese Communist Party's treatment of Zhang, and the country's media censorship.
"Because of the CCP's gross malfeasance, the rest of the world relied heavily on uncensored reports from citizen journalists like Zhang to understand the true situation in Wuhan after the CCP-imposed strict media controls were enforced and a controllable outbreak turned into a deadly global pandemic," the U.S. State Department wrote in a statement. "Her hasty trial, to which foreign observers were denied access, shows how fearful the CCP is of Chinese citizens who speak the truth."
A court in Shanghai found Zhang guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," according to the South China Morning Post.
Zhang left Shanghai when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst to go to Wuhan, where she issued video reports for months that showed streets with no people, packed hospitals and residents lamenting their financial distress.
She criticized the government for being too harsh in its lockdown and for silencing people who spoke out against China's handling of the pandemic.
Zhang stopped responding to messages in May after being arrested and returned to Shanghai. She began a hunger strike in June but has since been force fed by the government. She has suffered myriad health problems and attended her trial in a wheelchair.
Zhang reportedly expressed to her attorney her desire for a Bible in prison. A friend of Zhang's, attorney Li Dawei, said that when warned against going to Wuhan, Zhang "said it was God's will — she had to do this and tell everyone the truth."
Some other people who reported on the pandemic inside China have also mysteriously disappeared.