‘Criminal Judgment’ of Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan by Court in Shanghai

January 15, 2021

Zhang Zhan (张展), a resident of Shanghai and a former lawyer, went to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in February, video recorded what she saw, spoke to locals, wrote down her observations and thoughts, and posted them on social media platforms inside and outside China. She was detained in May and sentenced to four years in prison on December 28, 2020.  

She did not file an appeal by Monday, January 11, 2020, the deadline for doing so. Her lawyer Zhang Keke (张科科) met her for the last time before being relieved of his duties. Zhang Zhan has started eating, but only lightly, after on hunger strike for several months. From now on, we will have to rely on her relatives to bring updates on her status. Let’s not forget her.

The Editors  

Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Court

Criminal Judgment

(2020) Shanghai 0115 Criminal First Trial No. 4002


Public prosecuting authority: Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Procuratorate

Defendant Zhang Zhan, female, born on September 2, 1983 in Sanyuan County, Shaanxi Province, Han nationality, master’s degree, unemployed, registered at 162 Changli Road, Pudong New Area, Shanghai, residing at 158 Xuanhuang Highway, Room D307, Pudong New District, Shanghai, China, was reprimanded by the Hongkou Branch of Shanghai Public Security Bureau in August 2018 for using the internet to spread incitement to subvert state power. In April 2019, she was sentenced to one day of administrative detention by the Pudong Branch of the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau for provoking and causing trouble; in November 2019, she was sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention by the Huangpu Branch of the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau for disrupting the order of public places. On May 15, 2020, she was criminally detained by the Pudong Branch of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau for allegedly provoking trouble, and was arrested on June 19 of the same year. She is currently detained in Shanghai Pudong New District Detention Center.

Defending attorney: Ren Quanniu (任全牛), lawyer with Henan Railway Law Firm.

Defending attorney Zhang Keke (张科科), lawyer with Hubei Penglai Law Firm.

The Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Procuratorate raised prosecution of a Shanghai Pudong criminal case (2020) 6701 indictment accusing the defendant Zhang Zhan for guilt in committing the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble (寻衅滋事罪) on September 16, 2020 to this court. The case was filed on the same day, and was heard in open court by a panel of judges in accordance with the ordinary procedures. Shanghai Pudong New District People’s Procuratorate assigned Procurator Chen Gang (陈钢) to appear in court to support the prosecution, the defendant Zhang Zhan and defenders Ren Quanniu and Zhang Keke participated in the proceedings. During the period, the trial schedule was extended by three months with the approval of the Shanghai First Intermediate People’s Court. The trial has now been completed.

The Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Procuratorate alleges that on February 3, 2020, the defendant Zhang Zhan entered Wuhan city, Hubei Province, and then repeatedly spread a large amount of false information through WeChat, Twitter, YouTube, and other online media in text and video format, and also gave interviews to the overseas media “Radio Free Asia” and “The Epoch Times,” and maliciously speculated about the novel coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan, reaching a large audience and having a deleterious impact. To substantiate the above charges, the prosecuting authority read out and presented relevant witness testimonies, opinions of appraisal, and other documentary evidence in court, according to which Zhang Zhan should be held criminally responsible for the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, and requested that the court impose a sentence according to the law.

During the trial, the defendant Zhang Zhan did not accept the charges in the indictment. Her defense objected to the jurisdiction and argued that the evidence on file was defective and could not confirm that the text and video information sent by the defendant Zhang was false information. [The defense argued that] the text posted by the defendant Zhang Zhan is a record of her personal experiences in Wuhan, without fabricated false information. Even if there are certain errors and omissions in the content, they are in the tolerable range, and should not be considered grounds for her to be held criminally responsible for the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble.

The trial found that on February 3, 2020, defendant Zhang Zhan entered Wuhan city, Hubei Province, and then repeatedly posted a large amount of false information in text and video formats via WeChat, Twitter, YouTube, and other online media, as well as giving interviews to the foreign media “Radio Free Asia” and “The Epoch Times,” and maliciously speculated about the novel coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan, reaching a large audience and having a deleterious impact.

On May 14th, 2020, the defendant Zhang Zhan was arrested.

The facts described above have been confirmed by the following evidence offered at trial and subject to dispute and cross-examination by the defense:

1. Testimony from witnesses Huang Qian (黄芊), Chen Youwen (陈酉雯), Cheng Yi (程祎), Hou Li (侯丽), Hao Junfeng (郝峻峰), and Wang Gongxi (王共喜), as well as related articles and photos confirmed that Zhang Zhan sent them and others content and commentary related to Wuhan’s coronavirus control and prevention efforts through WeChat in mid-February 2020.

2. Testimony from witnesses He Guangyun (何光昀) and Ge Xingfu (葛幸福) and corroborating WeChat records confirmed that Zhang Zhan repeatedly shared content, documentaries, and commentary related to Wuhan’s coronavirus control and prevention efforts in her WeChat feed.

3. Testimony from witnesses Wang Dingbang (王定邦)[1] and Zhang Ming (张明), and WeChat records of related articles, confirmed that they and others reposted commentary written by Zhang Zhan regarding Wuhan’s coronavirus control and prevention efforts in their own WeChat feeds and WeChat groups.

4. Testimony from witness Jiang Fan (江帆) and records from the Residents’ Committee of Wuchang Shouyi Road Dadongmen Residential Complex regarding donated materials and the distribution of masks and care packages confirmed that Jiang Fan was Secretary of the Residents’ Committee and explained the nature of their coronavirus control measures,  personnel assignments, materiel and logistics, allocation of government subsidies, and PCR testing.

5. Testimony from witness Yang Yi (杨毅), a community security officer in Wuchang Shouyi Road, further confirmed the nature of the community’s coronavirus control measures,  personnel assignments, materiel and logistics, allocation of government subsidies, and PCR testing.

6. Testimony from witness Hu Xiaoping (胡筱萍), a resident of Wuchang district, explained in detail the epidemic prevention measures, management personnel, distribution of relief materials, and PCR testing during the pandemic.

7. Testimony from witness Sun Weijun (孙卫军), an employee of Wuhan Longquanshan Memorial Co. (龙泉山孝恩园), and related WeChat communication records, funeral sales records and official records of death explained the sales process for tombs and memorials as well as the situation and government subsidies provided during the coronavirus outbreak. This testimony also further elaborated on the PCR testing situation at the time.

8. Testimony from witness Zhang Xiaobing (张晓兵), owner of a storefront named “Chuang Xiang Gou Shu Zhu” (创享构树猪) in Wuchang, explained that after the coronavirus pandemic broke out, to facilitate pandemic prevention efforts, shops were ordered to provide only delivery services and shut down in-person ones. On March 4th, 2020, after discovering the shop had not adequately followed the rules for delivery services, personnel from the Bureau of Industry and Commerce decided to revoke his license. After being educated by Bureau personnel, he voluntarily handed his license over to them. This testimony also further elaborated on the PCR testing situation at the time.

9. The search warrant, search transcript, seizure decision, and list of items seized drafted by the Pudong branch of the Shanghai Municipal Public Safety Bureau showed that public security organs confiscated a mobile phone, USB storage devices, SD cards, a card reader, and other items from defendant Zhang Zhan.

10. Remote inspection records and extracted data summaries by the Pudong branch of the Shanghai Municipal Public Safety Bureau demonstrated that the content recovered from defendant Zhang Zhan’s YouTube and Twitter accounts does not align with demonstrated, objective facts.

11. An evaluation report from the Judicial Evaluation office of Shanghai Honglian Network Technology Co. (弘连网络科技), Ltd. confirmed that relevant WeChat Friend Circle records, chat records, some memo records, a portion of posts from Twitter, records of some videos posted on YouTube, commentaries, videos, views, reposts and likes from the Epoch Times, Radio Free Asia, and Twitter accounts were extracted from the phone of the defendant Zhang Zhan through technical means.

12. Previous relevant administrative punishment decisions confirmed the defendant’s past offenses.

13. The circumstances surrounding the arrest of the defendant by the Wuhan Municipal Public Security Bureau confirmed the existence of the case and presence of the defendant in Wuhan at the relevant time.

14. Census records from the Pudong branch of the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau confirmed the identity of the defendant.

Regarding the jurisdiction of this case, after investigation, it was found that the defendant’s Hukou and residence are both located in Pudong New District, Shanghai. According to the provisions of the “Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China,” this court has jurisdiction over this case.

Regarding the facts of the case, after investigation, ordinary residents, grassroots community workers, public security workers, and funerary workers have testified to the specific social conditions, epidemic prevention measures, and distribution of relief supplies that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan. At the same time, a portion of the people featured in commentary, videos, and other recorded content published by the defendant Zhang Zhan also testified to the true situation in Wuhan at the time. The above-named witnesses all experienced the measures taken to control the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, and testimony from those featured in Zhang Zhan’s videos and documentary content is mutually reinforcing, which can reveal the objective reality of the coronavirus prevention measures taken in Wuhan. As the process by which this evidence was obtained was legal, and the content is objective and mutually confirming, it is admissible in court. Thus, based on the facts ascertained in the investigation, the commentary, video, and interview content published by defendant Zhang Zhan through WeChat, Twitter, Youtube, and other online media platforms is uniformly inconsistent with the objective reality of coronavirus prevention efforts in Wuhan at the time.

This court believes that defendant Zhang Zhan repeatedly used WeChat, Twitter, Youtube, and other online media platforms to assume the role of a personal witness and spread  indiscriminately fabricated video and written content during a critical period in the effort to control the spread of the coronavirus in Wuhan. This content was published with the aim of distorting the record of, and commentary on, Wuhan’s coronavirus control and prevention efforts, accepting interviews with foreign media outlets including the Epoch Times and Radio Free Asia, thus causing the spread of the relevant false information through networks at home and abroad. The extensive dissemination of this content on the Internet, newspapers, and other media has caused a great number of netizens to see, comment on, and repost it, misleading the public and creating serious public disorder. This behavior constitutes the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble. The facts presented by the prosecution are clear, the evidence sufficient, the defendant convicted of the charges, and the court believes the sentencing recommendations are appropriate. To uphold its duty to maintain the social order, and following the reality, nature, and circumstances of the defendant’s crime and the degree of societal harm, according to Article 293, Clause 1, Number 4, and Article 64 of the “Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China” and Article 5, clause 2 of the “Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Several Issues concerning the Specific Application of Law in the Handling of Defamation through Information Networks and Other Criminal Cases,” the court’s judgement is as follows:

1. Defendant Zhang Zhan is found guilty of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, and is sentenced to four years in prison.

(The sentence is calculated from the date of initial execution. For the days of detention before sentencing, a day’s detention will count as a day towards the sentence, in this case the sentence will extend from May 14th, 2020 to May 13th, 2024.)

2. All materials used in the commission of this crime will be confiscated according to the law.

If you disagree with this judgment, you can appeal through this court or directly to the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court within 10 days of the second day following judgment. In the case of a written appeal, it is appropriate to submit one original and two copies of the appeal petition.

Presiding Judge Ma Chaojie (马超杰)
Trial Judge Wang Meiling (王美玲)
Trial Judge Chen Wei (陈玮)


December 28, 2020

(Shanghai municipality, Pudong New District People’s Court)

Court Clerk: Xu Xiaomin (余晓民)

[1] Editor’s Note: Following the publication of Zhang Zhan’s indictment where dissident Wang Dingbang was cited as a witness confirming that Zhang Zhan posted articles and videos on WeChat, Wang posted a statement in November that he had never had direct contact with Zhang Zhan; he merely reposted or liked some of Zhang Zhan’s posts; and he had never provided a testimony. On the day of trial on December 28, Wang was admitted into the courthouse as a witness for the defense with the intent to correct the falsehood of claims made in his name in the indictment, but was made by the court to sit outside the courtroom waiting but never allowed into it during the trial.   


Related:

‘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, Zhang Keke, January 1, 2021.

Zhang Zhan: A Six-Minute Documentary, December 28, 2020.

She Chronicled China’s Crisis. Now She Is Accused of Spreading Lies. New York Times, Dec. 25, 2020.

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