Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan sentenced for reporting early on COVID in Wuhan
Ms Zhang was believed to be the fourth Chinese independent reporter to have vanished from the public sight after posting reports from Wuhan, the former epicentre of the global health crisis.
Human rights campaigners are urging the Chinese government to release Ms Zhang.
A New York-based human rights organisation told MailOnline that Ms Zhang was being punished 'for doing exactly what the world desperately needed: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan'.
Home to some 11million people, the Chinese provincial capital caught international attention last December when the coronavirus first broke out there before spreading around the globe, killing at least 1,317,000 people so far.
According to Weiquan Net, a Chinese website which publishes updates about activists, Ms Zhang's persecution documents were released by the People's Procuratorate of Pudong New District of Shanghai on September 15.
One of the official files accused Ms Zhang of 'maliciously hyping the epidemic of the novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan' through popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, as well as Twitter and YouTube.
The prosecutor claimed that Ms Zhang had spread 'a large amount of false information' through text and videos and accepted interviews with foreign media outlets.
The other document suggested the judge should sentence Ms Zhang to a maximum of five years in jail for 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble'.
'Picking quarrels and provoking trouble' is a vaguely defined charge often used by Chinese authorities to target activists and dissidents, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
Radio Free Asia reported last Thursday that Ms Zhang had been on a hunger strike since June to protest against her arrest.
Citing a lawyer who had spoken to Ms Zhang's mother, the report stated that one of Ms Zhang's lawyers had dropped out of the case - a likely result of the government's pressure. Ms Zhang had only one lawyer left, the article claimed.
Ms Zhang lived in Shanghai before being arrested for her coronavirus reports.
Originally from the north-western province of Shaanxi, she had been critical of the Communist Party before the pandemic.
Last year, she was detained by the police, also on suspicion of 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble', after showing her support to pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters, according to a previous report.
It is said the independent journalist arrived in Wuhan around February 1 to report on the coronavirus outbreak.
According to Ms Zhang's YouTube channel, she visited some of the most sensitive places in Wuhan at the height of the city's COVID-19 outbreak, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, crematoriums and hospitals.
In one clip uploaded on February 25, one man told Ms Zhang that he had just seen a crematorium van transporting corpses from Wuhan Wuchang Hospital. 'It's too scary,' the man is heard saying while standing outside the medical facility.
In five videos released the next day, she appeared to film the exterior of the tightly guarded Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was at the centre of startling theories that the virus escaped from there. The institute was surrounded by high-voltage electric fences and run by the military, Ms Zhang claimed.
She also recorded how one crematorium was allegedly working overnight in mid-February, thought to be burning the bodies of COVID-19 victims.
In addition, the Hubei Provincial People's Hospital seemed to be packed with patients on March 1 when official figures claimed that the number of daily infections had dropped sharply.
Ms Zhang's supporters have hailed her for revealing 'the truth' of the epidemic.
One person wrote on YouTube: 'You are a brave woman. [You] are risking your life to report news for our web users. Thank you.'
Another one said on the platform: 'Thank you, sister, you are a true hero.'
One of her followers told Radio Free Asia in September: 'Zhang Zhan risked her life to go to infection area Wuhan to reveal the truth of Wuhan's epidemic. Such a brave citizen journalist was arrested.'
Human Rights Watch, a US-based human rights group, condemned the Chinese authorities' treatment of Ms Zhang.
Wang Yaqiu, a China researcher at the organisation, told MailOnline: 'Zhang Zhan is being punished for doing exactly what the world desperately needed: reporting on the coronavirus from Wuhan.
'The detention of Zhan only reveals how confident Beijing actually is about its "success" in containing Covid-19.
'Governments around the world should press Beijing to release Zhang and other wrongfully detained activists and citizen journalists immediately.'
It is alleged that Ms Zhang was 'forced to disappear' by authorities in Wuhan on May 14 and formally arrested in Shanghai on June 19.
'I'm very worried about her health and the detention conditions, and her mother is heartbroken,' Ms Zhang's 63-year-old father told South China Morning Post in June.
'We don't have any connections or money to get her out – we're in an utterly powerless situation.'
Before Ms Zhang, three other citizen journalists had vanished for publishing reports about Wuhan's epidemic on international social media outlets.
Chen Qiushi, 34, was last heard from on February 6 when he was reporting about the virus in Wuhan. Nearly eight months after his disappearance, Mr Chen's close friend reportedly revealed last month that he was being held under 'supervised surveillance at designated residence' in the eastern Chinese city Qingdao.
Fang Bin, a businessman, also disappeared in early February and is believed to have been taken into state custody.
Li Zehua, a 25-year-old former state TV journalist, disappeared in late February and re-appeared in late April.