Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned China’s sentencing of a journalist who reported on COVID-19 to four years in prison, saying that the Chinese Communist Party will do “whatever it takes” to silence those who question it.
“The United States strongly condemns the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sham prosecution and conviction of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan on December 28. We call on the PRC government to release her immediately and unconditionally,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has shown once again it will do whatever it takes to silence those who question the Party’s official line, even regarding crucial public health information.”
“Lying is a feature, not a bug of authoritarian regimes,” Pompeo added.
Zhang, 37, was sentenced to four years in prison Monday after she reported on crowded hospitals and the conditions in Wuhan earlier this year. Reports said she was convicted on the offense of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
Zhang had posted videos on YouTube that showed interviews with residents and images of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
She was critical of the response and eventually detained in May. “The government’s way of managing this city has just been intimidation and threats,” she said in one video, according to The New York Times. “This is truly the tragedy of this country.”
Reuters, citing her lawyer, reported that there will likely be an appeal and said his client believes she is “being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech.”
Pompeo said that the world had “heavily relied” on the information provided by Zhang and other citizen journalists after the CCP restricted and manipulated coronavirus information at the start of the outbreak. “Her hasty trial, to which foreign observers were denied access, shows how fearful the CCP is of Chinese citizens who speak the truth,” the statement read.
The Trump administration has repeatedly blamed Beijing for the pandemic, accusing the CCP of lying about human-to-human transmission of the virus and other vital COVID-19 information, allowing the disease to spread across the world.
In June, senior Chinese officials released a lengthy report on the country’s response and defended Beijing’s actions.
“The Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything,” National Health Commission Chairman Ma Xiaowei said at the time. “Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world.”
Fox News’ Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.