China: RSF urges for release of ailing Covid-19 reporter Zhang Zhan on the one-year anniversary of her sentence

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges for the release of Chinese Covid-19 journalist and 2021 RSF Press Freedom laureate Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in prison one year ago for covering Covid-19, and is now facing impending death.

Tuesday 28th December will mark one year 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 by the Shanghai Pudong New Area Court for allegedly "picking quarrels and provoking trouble". Zhang, 38, is close to death after a partial hunger strike she has been conducting to protest her innocence. In November, the last time her family was allowed to visit her, Zhang, whose height is 177 centimetres, weighed less than 40 kilograms and could not walk properly or even raise her head without help. 

Zhang Zhan courageously risked her life reporting in Wuhan at a time when very little information was available on the mode of transmission and severity of Covid-19, and she should have been celebrated as a hero instead of being detained”, says RSF East Asia Bureau head, Cédric Alviani, who urges the international community to build up pressure on the Chinese regime to “grant Zhang Zhan medical parole and ensure that she is released before it is too late.”

In a joint letter published on 17th 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 Zhan, at least 10 other press freedom defenders detained in China may soon suffer a deadly fate. Investigative reporter and RSF World Press Freedom Laureate Huang Qi, Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, and Uyghur journalist Ilham Tohti, recipient of the Václav Havel Prize and Sakharov Prize, are among those detained and at risk of death. 

Kunchok Jinpa, a leading source of information about Tibet for journalists, 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 both died in 2017 from cancer that was left untreated in detention. 

RSF has recently published an unprecedented investigative report entitled The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, which reveals the previously unheard-of campaign of repression led by Beijing against journalism and the right to information worldwide.

China, ranked 177th out of 180 in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index, is the world's largest captor of journalists with at least 126 detained.

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Updated on 27.12.2021