Journalist jailed for covering COVID-19 in Wuhan ‘may not live for much longer,’ says brother

Zhang Zhan citizen journalist covid-19 wuhan

Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who was arrested for covering the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China, is reportedly near death after going on a hunger strike to protest her four-year imprisonment sentence.

Near-death: Zhang, 38, is now severely underweight from her hunger strike and “may not live for much longer,” her brother Zhang Ju said, according to Agence France-Presse via The Guardian.

  • The former lawyer began her hunger strike following her arrest in May 2020, according to South China Morning Post. She was being force-fed through a nasal tube and was, at times, restrained from removing the tube.
  • Her family members asked the prison she is currently in if they could meet Zhang, but their request has not been acknowledged, according to a close friend of the journalist. Zhang’s family was reportedly allowed to have a virtual meeting with her in October.
  • According to Zhang’s brother, Zhang has been hospitalized several times already. She reportedly weighed 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in August and weighs even less now. Her brother also noted that she looked “completely out of shape” when they saw her during their virtual meeting.
  • “Zhang Zhan’s condition is much worse than it was in the summer. Her life is in danger,” Zhang Ju said, adding that she “might not make it through this winter.”
  • The “international community (must) apply pressure to the Chinese regime and secure Zhang’s immediate release before it is too late,” Cédric Alviani, head of RSF East Asia Bureau, said. “She was only performing her duty as a reporter and should never have been detained, not to mention receive a four-year prison sentence.”

International calls: Many international organizations and governments are now calling on the Chinese Community Party to release Zhang from jail as her health now stands on a precipice.

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  • Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, wants to hold the Chinese government accountable for Zhang’s situation.
  • “The Chinese government needs to be held to account for allowing yet another peaceful critic to fall gravely ill while unjustly imprisoned,” Yaqiu said. “Governments should call for Zhang Zhan’s urgent release to prevent an already terrible situation from becoming a tragic one.”
  • The U.S. government expressed its concern over Zhang’s health during a U.S. Department of State Press Briefing on Monday.
  • “The United States, along with other diplomatic missions – we have repeatedly expressed our serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her mistreatment during it,” spokesman Ned Price said. “We reiterate our call to the PRC for her immediate and unconditional release and for Beijing to respect a free press and the right of people to express themselves freely.”

What happened: Zhang was one of the four citizen journalists arrested for covering the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan in early 2020. Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua have already been released, while Fang Bin remains missing, NextShark previously reported.

  • Zhang was arrested in May on the grounds of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” an accusation typically used to quell dissidents. Zhang documented the government’s early response to the pandemic.
  • “She feels psychologically exhausted, like every day is a torment,” Zhang Ke Ke, her lawyer, said after visiting her on Christmas Day in 2020.

Featured Image via South China Morning Post

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