China: Journalist Zhang Zhan reportedly on verge of death in prison

Chinese journalist and former lawyer Zhang Zhan is reportedly suffering rapidly deteriorating health following over one year of an intermittent hunger strike in protest against her detention and later imprisonment. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on Chinese authorities to immediately release Zhang so that she may receive proper and urgently needed medical treatment.

Zhang Zhan. Credit: Screenshot of YouTube clip

On October 30, Zhang’s brother Zhang Ju said via Twitter: “I don’t think she can hold on much longer” while attaching a photo of Zhang. “If Zhang cannot make it through the coming winter, I wish the world would remember her as she once was,” he added.

According to Zhang Ju, Zhang currently weighs less than 40 kilograms despite being 1.77 metres tall.

Zhang’s deteriorating health has also been confirmed by her mother, who told the media shortly after having a video call with Zhang on October 28 that her daughter would “be in huge danger if they don't release her on medical parole.” "She can't walk unassisted now, and her head keeps drooping as she speaks," her mother said.

Zhang, 38, was sentenced to four years in prison on December 28, 2020 for reporting on Covid-19 during the early stages of the virus outbreak in China. In February 2020, she began uploading short video clips on social media to document the situation in Wuhan under strict lockdown but was targeted by the authorities intent on controlling the narrative surrounding the pandemic.

Zhang was arrested in May 2020, accused of spreading false information through online platforms. Shortly after her detention, Zhang went on hunger strike to protest the arbitrary charges against her. Her health has since declined due to malnutrition.

Zhang was eventually found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vaguely defined charge often levelled against those critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang pleaded not guilty to the charge.

On September 17, the IFJ joined 42 non-governmental organisations dedicated to defending press freedom to issue a joint letter addressed to China’s leader Xi Jinping to call for Zhang’s release, as she was reported to have suffered significant weight loss, stomach ulcers and reflux esophagitis.

The IFJ said, “The case of Zhang Zhan requires immediate attention as it is a pressing matter. The IFJ urges the Chinese authorities to release Zhang immediately so that she may receive medical treatment that is urgently needed before it is too late.”

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

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

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram