A CHINESE independent journalist arrested after reporting from coronavirus epicentre Wuhan is being force-fed and kept in restraints, her lawyer has said.
Zhang Zhan, 37, travelled to the city to collect first hand accounts of life under lockdown and posted videos of crematoriums working at midnight that cast doubt on the official death toll.
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Zhang live streamed scenes to Twitter and YouTube including quarantine hospital and also filmed the outside of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which some have claimed was the source of the outbreak.
She is believed to have been taken from her hotel room in Wuhan by police on May 14 and has since been charged with “provocation and trouble making”.
The catchall law – aimed at curbing criticism of the government – has a 100 per cent conviction rate and carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in jail.
Ms Zhang, started a hunger strike in September to protest against her detention, The Times reports.
Her lawyer, Zhang Keke, said that he had visited her this week and found she was wearing a restraining belt around her waist to prevent her from moving her hands.
The belt had been fitted after she recently tried to pull out feeding tubes that had been inserted into her nose and mouth, she told him.
She is forced to wear it 24 hours a day and needs help going to the lavatory.
Mr Zhang wrote an account of his visit which was posted on the Chinese blog Rights Protection Network.
Ms Zhang told him that she was suffering dizziness, headaches, and pain in her stomach, mouth and throat.
But she said she would not stop praying, and indicated she wouldn’t stop her hunger strike.
Her detention marked a clampdown by the Chinese authorities on independent reporting from Wuhan, where Covid-19 emerged at the end of last year.
The Chinese authorities have been accused of covering up blunders made at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and of stifling independent journalism.
Whistleblowers, including Dr Li Wenliang, who tried to alert the authorities at the start of the outbreak were also targetted.
There has also been scepticism about the official death toll, given by the authorities as 4,634 from 83,418 cases which is considerably lower than many less populated countries with better developed healthcare systems.
“The problem our country faces is that everything is being covered up,” Ms Zhang said in one of her videos.
“All dissenting voices are deemed as rumours.”
Zhang, a native of Shanghai, has also fallen foul of the authorities for her support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
During Wuhan’s 76 day lockdown, news from the city was tightly controlled with the official media focussing on efforts such as the rapid construction of a hospital and the mobilisation of healthcare workers from other parts of China.
But a small number of independent reports and bloggers were able to paint a more balanced picture.
Three other citizen journalists are known to have disappeared in Wuhan, including Li Zehua, also known as Kcriss Li.
The 25-year-old was live streaming a report from the city when he filmed himself being pursued by security officials and later detained.
He re-emerged on social media in late April after he had been missing for nearly two months and has since said he was held at a quarantine centre in the city and then sent to an isolation facility in his hometown.
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The whereabouts of Chen Qiushi, 34, a former human rights lawyer turned video journalist, travelled to Wuhan in late January to report on the worsening situationiss also unknown.
High-profile vlogger, Fang Bin has also disappeared after reporting from Wuhan.
Also detained was Ren Zhiqiang, a real estate tycoon, who called Chinese president Xi Jinping a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak