Jailed Wuhan COVID-19 journalist 'close to death' in Chinese prison

Jailed Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan is close to death following months of intermittent hunger strikes in protest at her jailing, RFA has learned.

Zhang, 37, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment by Shanghai’s Pudong District People’s Court on Dec. 28, 2020, and has been eating very little food, rather than refusing anything, to avoid being force-fed by tube.

“I don’t think she’s going to live much longer,” Zhang’s brother Zhang Ju said via his Twitter account at the weekend.

“If she doesn’t make it through the coming winter, I hope the world will remember her as she once was,” he added.

He said Zhang currently weighs less than 40 kilograms, despite being 1.78 meters tall.

One of a group of citizen journalists detained, jailed, or “disappeared” after they went to the central city of Wuhan to cover the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhang was sent for medical treatment at the end of July for malnutrition following several months of hunger strike in a Shanghai prison.

Zhang pleaded not guilty at her trial, where she appeared in court in a wheelchair. A guilty plea is typically a prerequisite for more lenient treatment in China’s judicial system under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Zhang Zhan’s mother had a video call with her daughter on Oct. 28, and told RFA that her health seems to have deteriorated.

“She can’t walk unassisted now, and her head keeps drooping as she speaks,” her mother said. “She will be in huge danger if they don’t release her on medical parole.”

“I cried for several hours straight after I got out [from the video meeting],” she said.

Gansu-based rights activist Li Dawei said Zhang has persisted with her hunger strike despite desperate pleas from her own family.

“I told the state security police that if they let me meet with her, I would do some ideological work with her and change her attitude, and persuade her to eat,” Li told RFA. “I got no reply.”

‘Idealistic, stubborn’

Zhang’s brother Zhang Ju said it would likely have been hard for Li to change his sister’s mind, however.

“I’ve never met anyone more idealistic, nor anyone more stubborn than her,” he said.

Wang Jianhong, spokesperson for the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China, said international pressure could be the only way to save Zhang’s life now.

“I think it would be very meaningful if we could save Zhang Zhan, because she will never give up her hunger strike while she’s in prison,” Wang told RFA. 

“In these very dark times, she won’t try to protect herself, she won’t compromise, and she won’t bow down to power.”

“She has always been that way; she has always wanted to conquer fear.”

A petition on Change.org calling for Zhang’s immediate release had garnered more than 3,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.



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