The Observatory has been informed by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) about the deteriorating health and ongoing arbitrary detention of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan, who has been detained since May 2020 as a reprisal for her coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic from February 2020 until her arrest. Ms. Zhang is a former lawyer whose licence was revoked in retaliation for her activism, and a well-known and outspoken journalist on the situation of human rights in China.
Between July 31 and August 11, 2021, Zhang Zhan was hospitalised in a prison hospital due to her deteriorating health as a result of an ongoing hunger strike she startedin June 2020 to protest her arbitrary detention. During her hospitalisation, she was tied to a hospital bed and force-fed by prison authorities. Zhang Zhan’s health is extremely poor, as she has lost a significant amount of weight and suffers from severe malnutrition, a gastric ulcer, and swollen legs and feet. On August 11, she was transferred back to the Shanghai Women’s Prison, where she remained detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
Furthermore, since Zhang Zhan’s arrest, her family has been systematically denied its right to visit the journalist, and has only been allowed to communicate with her by phone on August 2, 2021, and by video call through a phone handed by a police officer in early February 2021.
The Observatory recalls that on May 14, 2020, Zhang Zhan went missing in Wuhan, Hubei Province, one day after releasing a video that criticised the government’s measures to contain the virus, claiming the authorities were being negligent. Zhang Zhan had travelled to Wuhan from her home in Shanghai in early February 2020 to report from the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. She reported numerous stories, including the detention of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability, via her WeChat, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.
After seven months of pre-trial detention, on December 28, 2020, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Courtfound Zhang Zhan guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law) and sentenced her to four years in prison. The court rejected the application filed by Zhang Zhan’s lawyers to request bail, live streaming of the trial, and a time extension of the proceedings. Their requests to have the defense witnesses appear in court to present exculpatory evidence was also rejected by the court. Zhang Zhan attended her trial in a wheelchair because of her poor health due to her hunger strike, and was restrained and force-fed via a nasal tube during her detention.
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the health conditions of Zhang Zhan and urges the Chinese authorities to grant heraccess to adequate and comprehensive medical treatment, and to immediately and unconditionally release her, as herdetention is arbitrary and is only putting herlife at risk.
How You Can Help
Please write to the Chinese authorities to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Zhang Zhan as well as that of all other human rights defenders in China;
ii. Guarantee Zhang Zhan’s access to her family members and to a lawyer of her own or her family’s choosing;
iii. Repeal the guilty verdict and release Zhang Zhan immediately and unconditionallyas her detention is arbitrary since it only seems to aim at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Zhang Zhan and all other human rights defenders in the country, so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance and fear of reprisals.
· Mr. Li Keqiang, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China, Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Guo Shengkun, Minister of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· H.E. Mr. Zhaoxu Ma, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Qu Xing, Ambassador, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Brussels, Belgium, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of China in your respective countries.