Chinese journalist and former lawyer, Zhang Zhan has reached critical health condition after going on hunger strike following her arrest in May 2020. She was jailed for reporting about the coronavirus outbreak on social media and questioning Chinese authorities’ handling of the situation. In December 2020 she was sentenced to 4 years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a charge that is often used to punish dissidents.
According to reports, her family said that she may not live long after losing a considerable amount of weight. Her brother posted a sad note on social media and hoped that people will remember who she was and what she did.
If Anything Happens to This Chinese Journalist…
The family of the captured Chinese journalist is not sure if she can make it through winter considering her medical condition. Human rights groups have called for her immediate release along with 4 other journalists captured with her. Amnesty International (AI) said that Zhang Zhan should have never been arrested in the first place for reporting on the outbreak. Zhan went on a hunger strike in protest of her incarceration but the authorities force-fed her through nasal tubes.
After months of deteriorating health, she is now facing a high risk of dying in prison. Activists have demanded China release her immediately so that she can get proper medical treatment. They also warned that if Zhan died then her blood will be on the Chinese government’s hands. The human rights group said that China had solely imprisoned her for exercising her right to freedom of speech.
How is China Treating Her?
According to reports, the Chinese journalist started a hunger strike in June 2020. and by December 2020, she had to attend her trial in a wheelchair because of weakness. Before the trial, when Chinese authorities were force-feeding her, they also restrained her so that she couldn’t remove the feeding tube. Reportedly, they put her in shackles and hand restraints for the entire day for more than three months as a punishment for starting a hunger strike.
In July 2021, Zhan suffered from severe malnutrition due to which she had to be admitted to the hospital. After returning to prison from hospital she continued a partial hunger strike despite the grave danger to her life. Ever since her trial, Chinese authorities have stopped her from speaking to a lawyer or meeting any family member. They have allowed her to occasionally speak with relatives over the phone, under supervision.
The Biggest Captor of Dissent
An independent Chinese journalist is a key source of unfiltered and uncensored first-hand information in China. It is because they work independently and no state-controlled media can manipulate the news. In return, these citizen journalists face constant harassment and abuse from the Chinese government just like Zhang Zhan did.
The pattern of death involving the imprisoned Chinese activists and journalists is alarming. Most of these prisoners either die in detention or right after their delayed-release on medical parole.
In July 2017, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was denied cancer treatment abroad that resulted in his death. A dissident writer Yang Tongyan (aka Yang Tianshui) died 3 months after being released late on medical parole for an operation to remove a brain tumor.
China is regarded as the worst jailer of journalists and activists in the world.