China: RSF increasingly concerned as journalist Zhang Zhan is threatened with re-arrest

Calls for the full and unconditional release of Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan have reached a new level of urgency as police have threatened her with possible rearrest if she again crosses certain “red lines.” Remaining under strict surveillance and facing a new wave of pressure more than one month after her release from prison after completing a four-year term, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges diplomatic missions to keep Zhang Zhan’s safety and freedom high on the agenda in their relations with Beijing. 

More than one month after Zhang Zhan has been officially released from prison, where she served a four-year term in retaliation for her independent reporting on the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the journalist has still not regained her full freedom, living under strict surveillance by Chinese authorities. Most recently, on 9 June, the Xuanqiao Police Station of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau’s Pudong Branch summoned her and officers threatened that if she crossed certain “red lines” again, she would be “put away.” 

“We remain very worried for Zhang Zhan as she faces a new wave of pressure following her release from prison. We repeat: partial freedom is not freedom at all, and the Chinese authorities are fooling no one in subjecting Zhang Zhan to extreme surveillance and threats of rearrest. This courageous journalist needs international support now more than ever, after risking so much to report on a public health issue impacting us all. We urge the diplomatic community to remain vigilant in monitoring Zhang Zhan’s situation, and to keep her safety and freedom high on the agenda in their relations with Beijing.

Rebecca Vincent
RSF’s Director of Campaigns

RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate Zhang Zhan, detained under the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” was due to be released from Shanghai Women’s Prison on 13 May 2024. For more than a week, there were no updates on her whereabouts, raising concerns about her safety. As international pressure grew from RSF and others, six days later Zhang Zhan released a short video via an intermediary, finally confirming her release from prison and stating that she was at home with her family. Her close circles, however, have confirmed that she was “very much unfree” and remains under the close watch of the Chinese regime.

Zhang Zhan was among the courageous journalists who, despite the risk of contagion, had travelled to the city of Wuhan to cover the very start of the Covid-19 epidemic. She had posted more than 100 videos on her YouTube Channel, WeChat, and Twitter, before being reported missing on 14 May 2020. The next day, authorities announced that she had been detained.

Alarming deterioration of health

Throughout her four years of imprisonment, RSF called for her release and raised alarm over her ill treatment. During her first months in detention, Zhang Zhan almost died after going on a total hunger strike. Prison officials forcibly fed her through a nasal tube and sometimes left her handcuffed for days. In July 2023, she was very weak and weighed only 37 kilograms despite being 1.7 metres tall, which is half of what she weighed prior to her imprisonment.

On 17 June 2024, the European Union called for Zhang Zhan’s release and stressed that the “heavy surveillance still imposed on her and the restrictions on her movements are unacceptable.” In May, the US State Department called for “immediately ending the restrictive measures” faced by the journalist, while the UK Ambassador for Human Rights stated that Zhang Zhan should be allowed to live without “fear and further intimidation or harassment.”

China, the world's biggest prison for journalists and press freedom defenders with at least 118 detainees, is ranked 172nd out of 180 countries in the 2024 RSF World Press Freedom Index.

172/ 180
Score : 23.36
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