China: RSF urges for release of ailing Covid-19 journalist Zhang Zhan on the second anniversary of her sentence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges for the release of Chinese journalist and RSF Press Freedom laureate Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in prison two years ago for covering Covid-19 and is at high risk of dying if kept in detention.
“Zhang Zhan, who courageously risked her life by informing the public on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, deserves to be celebrated as a hero and instead of is being persecuted by the Chinese regime,” says RSF East Asia Bureau head, Cédric Alviani, who urges the international community to build up pressure for Beijing to “grant Zhang Zhan medical parole and ensure that she is released before it is too late.”
Wednesday, 28 December, will mark two years since Zhang Zhan, a Chinese journalist who covered the first weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly "picking quarrels and provoking trouble." In 2021, Zhang was close to death after a hunger strike she had been conducting to protest her innocence.
In August 2022, Zhang Zhan's health slightly improved, but at a height of 1.7 metres, she still weighed only 41 kilograms. Although Zhang was allowed to have short phone calls with her mother each month, the family could not get any clear information about how she was doing in prison. On 14 December, Zhang Zhan's brother tweeted images of a letter, in which she mainly comforted the family. Shadows of censorship and control are scattered in this letter, with the word ‘police’ mentioned four times, and a postmark on the envelope dated 28 November, a month after the letter was originally written.
“Once again, from this letter we see how remarkably strong Zhang Zhan is in her spirit. However, her physical ordeal isn't over. The Chinese authorities have made sure that little information about her health condition is disclosed to her family despite their concerns," said Jane Wang, Chinese activist and Zhang Zhan campaigner, “If her body weight remains critically low, either she has not ended her partial hunger strike or her body's functions have been impaired to such an extent that she is unable to absorb essential nutrients. In any case, she needs prompt, comprehensive medical care. This is absolutely crucial to ensure that she can survive the remaining 18 months of her four-year jail term."
In a joint letter published in September 2021, RSF and a coalition of 44 human rights NGOs urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to exonerate and release Zhang Zhan.
Along with Zhang, at least 15 other press freedom defenders detained in China may soon suffer a deadly fate, including ailing journalist Huang Qi. A leading source of information about Tibet for journalists, Kunchok Jinpa, died in February 2021 as a result of mistreatment in detention. Nobel Peace Prize and RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and dissident blogger Yang Tongyan died in 2017 from cancers left untreated in detention.
In 2021, RSF published The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, a report detailing Beijing’s efforts to control information and media within and outside its borders.
China ranks 175th out of 180 in the 2022 RSF World Press Freedom Index and is the world's largest captor of journalists with at least 110 detained.