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EU demands China free citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, along with others

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The European Union on Tuesday demanded that China release citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and several other jailed reporters, lawyers and human rights champions.

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The EU statement was issued just ahead of Brussels signing a major investment pact with Beijing, despite concerns about China’s labor and civil rights record.

Zhang was jailed on Monday for four years over allegations of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” during her coverage of the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak in epicentre Wuhan, her lawyer said.

“Prior to her detention, Ms Zhang Zhan had been reporting about the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan,” EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement.

“According to credible sources, Ms Zhang has been subject to torture and ill-treatment during her detention and her health condition has seriously deteriorated. It is crucial that she receives adequate medical assistance.”

Brussels also demanded the release of Yu Wensheng, a human rights lawyer jailed on December 13.

“The European Union calls for the immediate release of Ms Zhang Zhan, of Mr Yu Wensheng and of other detained and convicted human rights defenders,” the statement said.

The statement listed Li Yuhan, Huang Qi, Ge Jueping, Qin Yongmin, Gao Zhisheng, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Wu Gan, Liu Feiyue “as well as all those who have engaged in reporting activities in the public interest.

Brussels’ concern for the fate of Chinese rights activists and independent journalists comes despite the EU’s push to sign a major investment pact with China this week.

Some MEPs have expressed concern that the deal, seven years in the negotiation, sends the wrong signal on human rights, but on Monday the 27 member states gave the European Commission the go ahead to sign.