A citizen journalist jailed for her coverage of China’s initial response to Covid in Wuhan is close to death after going on hunger strike, her family said, prompting renewed calls from rights groups for her immediate release.
Zhang Zhan, 38, a former lawyer, travelled to Wuhan in February 2020 to report on the chaos at the pandemic’s epicentre, questioning authorities’ handling of the outbreak in her smartphone videos.
She was detained in May 2020 and sentenced in December to four years in jail for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a charge routinely used to suppress dissent.
She is now severely underweight and “may not live for much longer”, her brother Zhang Ju wrote last week on a Twitter account verified by people close to the matter.
Zhang has been on a hunger strike and was force-fed through nasal tubes, her legal team, which did not have information on her current condition, told AFP earlier this year.
“She may not survive the coming cold winter,” Zhang Ju wrote, adding that he had urged his sister in letters to “take care of herself”. “In her heart, it seems there is only God and her beliefs, with no care for anything else.”
Someone close to the citizen journalist, who declined to be named, told AFP the family had asked to meet Zhang more than three weeks ago at the Shanghai women’s prison where she is being held but had not received a response.
AFP was unable to reach Zhang Ju while Zhang’s mother declined to comment. The Shanghai prison also offered no response when approached by AFP.
Zhang now cannot walk or even raise her head without help, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Zhang is among a group of four citizen journalists — including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua—detained after reporting from Wuhan.
Source: France 24