China: Concerns over journalist’s health on hunger strike

There are rising concerns about Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan’s physical condition as her long-running hunger strike to protest her lack of guilt causes her health to deteriorate. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges the Chinese government to release Zhang Zhan so that she can receive proper medical care.

Democracy activist Lee Cheuk-Yan speaks outside China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong on December 28, 2020, during a protest calling on China to free Zhang Zhan. Credit: PETER PARKS / AFP

Zhang was arrested in May 2020 and then sentenced in December to four years imprisonment for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang uploaded dozens of videos to YouTube depicting different parts of Wuhan after the city was placed under strict lockdown rules in February 2020.

Zhang’s arrest followed her publication of these videos which criticised the government’s COVID-19 response. The charge against Zhang is vague and subjective, these charges are commonly used in political cases by Chinese authorities.

According to a message sent by Zhang’s mother to a group on Chinese social media followers, Zhang was hospitalised on July 31 and now weighs less than 40 kilograms.

Zhang’s family was informed by authorities of her deteriorating health and they were told to visit Zhang in prison. During a trip to Shanghai on August 2, Zhang’s parents and brother intended to facilitate her release from jail yet they were only permitted to speak with her over the phone.

Peng Yonghe, a lawyer who spoke with Zhang’s mother during her visit, said “We just hope that she can get out of jail, because her hunger strike is really worrying.”

Jane Wang, an activitist with Humanitarian China, said that hospitals in Chinese prisons are generally poorly equipped. While a Radio Free Asia’s interview with a family friend of Zhang illustrates that she suffers from stomach ulcers and reflux esophagitis. Zhang’s mother fears her Zhang’s organs may fail due to malnutrition.

The IFJ said: “The case of Zhang Zhan requires immediate attention by the Chinese government as it is a pressing matter. The IFJ urges authorities to release Zhang so that she may receive medical care and continue her work without harassment by Chinese authorities. Vague charges against journalists serve to deligitimise China’s legal system and Zhang’s protest highlights the urgent need for China to reform its press freedom laws and create a fair and reasonable legislative framework.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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