‘The Legal Apparatus Can Bring Anyone to Court for the Sake of Censoring the People:’ Some Statements by the Defense During the Trial Argument Phase of Zhang Zhan’s Case

Attorney Zhang Keke, January 1, 2021

A website run by China’s Supreme Court (中国庭审公开网) live streams thousands of court hearings on any given work day, but almost never broadcasts trials of political prisoners — with the exception of occasional “show trials.” Zhang Zhan’s lawyers made a request for live streaming her trial, but the court rejected it citing a “lack of equipment.” Only Zhang Zhan’s parents were allowed in the courtroom, along with two government minders claiming to be “neighborhood workers,” while supporters and foreign diplomats were kept outside. The trial on December 28, 2020, lasted only two hours, and Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison. . — The Editors

Zhang Keke spoke to media before entering court in Shanghai on Dec. 28.

Presiding Judge and trial Judges,

The Hubei Penglai Law Firm (湖北朋来律师事务所) has been entrusted by Zhang Zhan’s family to act as her defense. I make the following arguments:

(Having responded to the prosecutor’s argumentation, the defense continues with its argumentation.)

A person who goes to Wuhan with the risk of being infected by a class B virulent infectious disease is either crazy or remarkable.

Zhang Zhan (张展) arrived in Wuhan in early February of this year at the risk of being infected and arrested by the government. And in the few hours before the city was closed on January 21 this year, hundreds of thousands of people fled Wuhan. Zhang Zhan is a person who truly went against the grain in the midst of the disaster, demonstrating her responsibility and commitment to society as well as her compassion for the common people.

The reason why society produces media is precisely because people are limited in what their eyes can see and where their feet can take them. There are ways to stay away from disasters; as well as ways to rescue the victims in the aftermath. All requires media coverage.

There is a writer named Fang Fang (方方) in Wuhan who, without setting foot outside her home during the lockdown, wrote a diary of what she heard or read from the news, but she was not criminally charged after she published it.

Instead, Zhang Zhan went personally to the frontline of the epidemic in Wuhan, visiting hospitals, funeral parlors, cemeteries, the homes of coronavirus patients, and those who faced unemployment and loss of livelihood, as well as stores that went out of business. She interviewed people personally. If you accuse her of fabrication, you should ask the interviewees why they said what they said. While Zhang Zhan offered her personal takes on events, but as far as facts are concerned, much of what she reported on were not her personal statements.

When adducing evidence, the public prosecutor read witnesses’ written testimonies [without calling witnesses to the courtroom], and then, moving on to the evidence, the public prosecutor only gave the names of the evidence, without reviewing the written content of the WeChat articles and without playing the YouTube videos that were used in the allegations. So what exactly did Zhang Zhan do to be accused of fabricating false information?

We mainlanders usually can’t see overseas media, can’t download overseas social media apps, so how could we have accessed the videos and information posted by Zhang Zhan, how could it have had a large audience and bad influence? As a matter of fact, it was only after her arrest that attention rose.

(During cross-examination, the defense stated that if the prosecutor fails to present the evidence, does not read out the articles or play the videos, and does not prove what Zhang Zhan has done or said, they will have to bear the consequences of not being able to prove the evidence and that the suspect should be released immediately before this court)

Regarding the relevant information mentioned by the public prosecutor in the witness testimonies, for example, the cost of nucleic acid testing: In the middle of May this year, there was a comprehensive community checkup for nucleic acid testing in Wuhan, which was indeed provided free of charge, but Zhang Zhan had already been arrested by the time tests began to be administered. Prior to this, there were prices and fees for nucleic acid testing in Wuhan. This includes us lawyers, who need to travel often; we had to pay out-of-pocket each time we got nucleic acid tests done. If testing in Wuhan was all done free of charge, wouldn’t people from the broader region have gone to Wuhan to enjoy free treatment?

In the electronic data evidence, regarding the quality of vegetables in some Wuhan community, whether the persons wearing camouflage uniforms at the entrance of the residential compound where Zhang Zhan stayed were armed police, and the evaluations by the residents in certain residential compound of Wuhan about the distribution of supplies in their community, there are corresponding videos that can be played and reviewed to demonstrate that Zhang Zhan did not fabricate false information.

The Wuhan Health Commission and CCTV and other media said at the beginning of the epidemic that there was no ongoing human-to-human transmission, but soon thereafter they reversed direction in their reporting. Were they held criminally responsible?

When Dr. Li Wenliang (李文亮) was admonished and reprimanded, were those media or journalists who in their reportage accused Dr. Li and seven others of spreading rumors been held accountable?

If a person’s speech is to be censored, does he or she dare to speak up? The law in our country is that as long as a person’s speech does not insult, defame, slander, or divulge state secrets, then his or her speech should be protected by law. Our country has also not established a special agency for fact-check rumors, so how can we identify Zhang Zhan’s remarks to be rumors? The police investigators said that the news she published were rumors. Do these investigators have proof that they are rumors? Do these investigators have the authority to identify what constitutes rumors?

(The defense attempts to explain that the judicial interpretation of “provoking trouble” [寻衅滋事] conflicts with higher law, but was interrupted by the presiding judge.)

I would like to ask the public prosecutor and the trial judges to give Zhang Zhan’s WeChat articles and social commentary in the case file a proper read-through. She comes from a place of deep love and compassion for the people at the bottom of society in seeking to understand the heartaches of every common person and in trying to help those in need.

Premier Li Keqiang said, “Only when the people speak the truth, can we come up with good policies.” If we do not understand the needs of the people, how can the government provide public services? Our understanding is that the government should serve the people, rather than the other way around.

Finally, I implore the court to hear the case according to the law, throw out factors external to the law, find Zhang Zhan not guilty, and release her before this court.

The above is compiled from memory. The trial recording should be the definitive record.

Translated from Chinese by China Change.


On the Silencing and Prosecution of PRC Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan, PRESS STATEMENT, MICHAEL R. POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, DECEMBER 29, 2020.

Chinese Citizen Journalist Sentenced to 4 Years for Covid Reporting, New York Times, December 28, 2020.

Zhang Zhan’s YouTube Channel

Excerpt: Zhang Zhan’s two lawyers, Zhang Keke and Ren Quanniu, spoke to reporters after the trial.

One response to “‘The Legal Apparatus Can Bring Anyone to Court for the Sake of Censoring the People:’ Some Statements by the Defense During the Trial Argument Phase of Zhang Zhan’s Case”

  1. […] ‘The Legal Apparatus Can Bring Anyone to Court for the Sake of Censoring the People:’ Some State…, Zhang Keke, January 1, 2021. […]

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