In a single video, in the course of the lockdown in Wuhan, she filmed a hospital hallway lined with rolling beds, the sufferers hooked as much as blue oxygen tanks. In one other, she panned over a group well being middle, noting {that a} man mentioned he was charged for a coronavirus take a look at, although residents believed the exams could be free.

On the time, Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer turned citizen journalist, embodied the Chinese language individuals’s starvation for unfiltered details about the epidemic. Now, she has turn into a logo of the federal government’s efforts to disclaim its early failings within the disaster and promote a victorious narrative as a substitute.

Ms. Zhang abruptly stopped posting in Could, after a number of months of dispatches. The police later revealed that she had been arrested, accused of spreading lies. On Monday, she’s going to go to court docket, within the first recognized trial of a chronicler of China’s coronavirus disaster.

Ms. Zhang has continued to problem the authorities from jail. Quickly after her arrest, Ms. Zhang started a starvation strike, in keeping with her legal professionals. She has turn into gaunt and drained however has refused to eat, the legal professionals mentioned, sustaining that her strike is her type of protest in opposition to her unjust detention.

“She mentioned she refuses to take part within the trial. She says it’s an insult,” Ren Quanniu, one of many legal professionals, mentioned after visiting Ms. Zhang in mid-December in Shanghai, the place she is being held.

Ms. Zhang’s prosecution is a part of the Chinese language Communist Social gathering’s persevering with marketing campaign to recast China’s dealing with of the outbreak as a succession of smart, triumphant strikes by the federal government. Critics who’ve pointed to officers’ early missteps have been arrested, censored or threatened by police; three different citizen journalists disappeared from Wuhan earlier than Ms. Zhang did, although not one of the relaxation has been publicly charged.

Prosecutors accused Ms. Zhang of “choosing quarrels and upsetting bother” — a frequent cost for presidency critics — and really helpful between 4 and 5 years in jail.

“She was shocked,” Mr. Ren mentioned. “She didn’t suppose it could be that heavy.”

Ms. Zhang was amongst of a wave of journalists, professionals and amateurs who flocked to Wuhan after the lockdown was imposed in late January. The authorities have been preoccupied with making an attempt to handle the chaos of the outbreak, and for a short interval, China’s strict censorship regime loosened. Reporters seized that window to share residents’ uncooked accounts of terror and fury.

In her first weeks, Ms. Zhang visited a crematory, a crowded hospital hallway and the town’s abandoned prepare station. On March 7, when Wuhan’s prime Communist Social gathering official mentioned residents ought to endure “gratitude education” to thank the federal government for its anti-epidemic efforts, Ms. Zhang walked by the streets, asking passers-by in the event that they felt grateful.

“Is gratitude one thing you may train? If you happen to can, it should be a pretend gratitude,” she mentioned into the digital camera afterward. “We’re adults. We don’t have to be taught.”

Ms. Zhang’s movies have been typically shaky and unedited, generally lasting only a few seconds. They incessantly confirmed the challenges of unbiased reporting in China below the Social gathering’s tightening grip. Many residents ignored Ms. Zhang or advised her to depart. In the event that they did speak, they requested her to level the digital camera at their ft.

Whereas she posted some movies and essays to WeChat, a preferred messaging service in China, she mentioned she typically encountered censorship on the platform. She largely relied on YouTube and Twitter, that are blocked in China however may be accessed by digital non-public networks.

Ms. Zhang had by no means been a citizen journalist earlier than touring to Wuhan from Shanghai, the place she lived, mentioned Li Dawei, a buddy who exchanged messages along with her typically whereas she was reporting. However she was cussed and idealistic, he mentioned, to a degree that was generally obscure.

Ms. Zhang appeared to know the dangers of her actions. In certainly one of her first movies, on Feb. 7, she talked about that one other citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, had simply disappeared, and one other, Fang Bin, was below surveillance. Whistleblower docs had been silenced, she added.

“However as somebody who cares concerning the reality on this nation, we now have to say that if we simply wallow in our disappointment and don’t do one thing to vary this actuality, then our feelings are low cost,” Ms. Zhang mentioned.

Not lengthy afterward, Mr. Fang disappeared. So did Li Zehua, one other citizen journalist who had traveled to Wuhan. China’s chief, Xi Jinping, had lately ordered officers to “strengthen the steering of public opinion,” and lots of of journalists from state media were deployed to the city.

The crackdown additionally prolonged to individuals who had tried to doc the disaster in much less direct methods. In April, three volunteers who had created an internet archive of censored information articles concerning the epidemic went missing; two have been later charged with choosing quarrels and upsetting bother, although their trials haven’t begun, in keeping with relations.

Credit score…Chen Qiushi, through Related Press

Regardless of the scrutiny, Ms. Zhang continued shifting round Wuhan for a number of weeks, probably partly as a result of she had not attracted a big following. A few of her movies have been seen just a few hundred occasions on YouTube.

Her buddy, Mr. Li, warned that the authorities would lose endurance finally, particularly as Ms. Zhang grew more and more daring. At one level, she went to police stations to inquire after the lacking citizen journalists.

“She believed me, however she nonetheless simply wouldn’t cease,” Mr. Li recalled. “She mentioned, ‘I haven’t completed my work in Wuhan.’”

In mid-Could, Ms. Zhang out of the blue stopped responding, Mr. Li mentioned. He later discovered that she had been arrested and delivered to Shanghai. The indictment, reviewed by The New York Occasions, accused Ms. Zhang of “making up lies and spreading false info.” It additionally famous that she had given interviews to “international media” resembling Radio Free Asia and the Epoch Occasions.

Ms. Zhang started refusing meals not lengthy after her arrest, in keeping with her legal professionals. When certainly one of them, Zhang Ke Ke, visited her in jail earlier this month, he noticed that her palms had been tied with restraints, in keeping with a put up on his WeChat account. Ms. Zhang defined that the guards periodically inserted a feeding tube and had sure her palms so she couldn’t pull it out, Mr. Zhang wrote. (The 2 Zhangs will not be associated.)

Ms. Zhang mentioned she felt dizzy and had stomachaches, Mr. Zhang continued. A Christian, she wished she had a Bible and quoted to him from I Corinthians: “God is devoted, who is not going to endure you to be tempted above that ye are in a position.”

Each Mr. Zhang and Mr. Ren, who visited individually later, pleaded with Ms. Zhang to eat. However she refused, Mr. Ren mentioned.

“She’s a lot paler than in her movies and images — deathly pale,” Mr. Ren mentioned, including that Ms. Zhang appeared to have aged a number of a long time. “It’s actually onerous to imagine that she’s the identical individual as you noticed on-line.”

China’s court docket system is notoriously opaque, with delicate circumstances typically heard behind closed doorways. In 2019, the conviction charge for Chinese language courts was 99.9 percent, in keeping with authorities statistics. Ms. Zhang’s legal professionals lately petitioned for Ms. Zhang’s trial to be live-streamed, to make sure transparency, however they haven’t heard again, Mr. Ren mentioned.

Of the opposite citizen journalists who disappeared, only one, Mr. Li, has publicly emerged. In a YouTube video in April, he mentioned he had been forcibly quarantined however not charged. One other, Mr. Chen, is reportedly with household however has not spoken publicly; pals say he’s below surveillance. There was no information of Mr. Fang.

In her second-to-last video earlier than her personal arrest, Ms. Zhang walked down a road in a neighborhood the place circumstances had lately been reported. As she filmed the shuttered outlets, a person in a neon vest emblazoned with the phrases “on responsibility” confronted her, asking her the place she lived and whether or not she was a journalist. When Ms. Zhang rebuffed him, he yelled, “If you happen to put up this on-line, you’ll must take duty.”

“I take duty for all my actions,” Ms. Zhang yelled again. “You need to take duty on your actions as regulation enforcement, too.”