China: RSF urges for release of ailing detained Covid-19 journalist, hospitalised again
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges for the release of Chinese journalist and RSF Press Freedom laureate Zhang Zhan, detained since 2020 for covering the Covid-19 outbreak, who was recently hospitalised again and is at high risk of dying if kept in detention.
A Chinese journalist detained for covering the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, Zhang Zhan, has recently been hospitalised again and remains on a partial hunger strike to protest her innocence. Zhang, 39, was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by the Shanghai Pudong New Area Court in December 2020.
Zhang Zhan had posted more than 100 videos on her YouTube Channel, WeChat and Twitter, before being reported missing on 14 May 2020 in Wuhan. The next day, authorities announced that she was detained.
“Journalist Zhang Zhan, who courageously risked her life by informing the public on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, is at risk of dying if she does not receive extensive medical treatment. Following a joint appeal to the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2021, we now urge the international community to build up pressure on the Chinese regime to ensure Zhang Zhan is released before it is too late.
When Zhang’s mother visited her in prison in July 2023, she was very weak and weighed only 37 kilograms despite being 1.7 metres tall, half of what she weighed prior to the detention. Zhang is also suffering from severe malnutrition, gastrointestinal disease, and low white blood cell count.
This is not the first time the journalist has been ill-treated. During her first few months of detention between May 2020 and January 2021, Zhang Zhan was on a full hunger strike, for which prison authorities force-fed her through a nasal tube and at times shackled her hands 24 hours a day.
Along with Zhang, at least 15 other press freedom defenders in China are at risk of dying in detention, including Australian political commentator Yang Hengjun, detained for ‘espionage’ since January 2019. Nobel Peace Prize and RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and political commentator Yang Tongyan both died in 2017 from cancers that were left untreated in detention, while Kunchok Jinpa, a leading source of information about the autonomous Chinese region of Tibet for journalists, died in 2021 as a result of mistreatment.
Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power in 2012, he has been conducting a large-scale crusade against journalism, as revealed in RSF’s report The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China published in December 2021, which details Beijing’s efforts to control information and media within and outside its borders.
China ranks 179th out of 180 in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index and is the world's largest captor of journalists and press freedom defenders with at least 115 detained.