#WhereIsZhangZhan: RSF raises alarm over the Chinese journalist’s disappearance following her expected release from prison



As international pressure grew, on 21 May 2024, Zhang Zhan released a short video via an intermediary confirming her release from prison and stating that she was at home with her family. However, she remains under strict surveillance by the authorities. RSF remains concerned by her situation and emphasises that partial freedom is not freedom at all. Diplomatic intervention remains crucial to ensure her full and unconditional release without delay.


One week after the end of her four-year prison term, the Chinese authorities refuse to reveal the whereabouts of journalist Zhang Zhan. Deeply concerned that she may still be detained, severely ill, or placed under heavy surveillance, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges Beijing to disclose information about Zhang Zhan immediately and ensure her full and unconditional release without further delay. 

Chinese journalist and former lawyer Zhang Zhan, detained for four years for her independent reporting on the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in China under the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” was due to be released from Shanghai Women’s Prison a week ago, on 13 May, following the completion of her sentence. But the journalist remains unaccounted for, while authorities refuse to disclose information about her whereabouts, after stopping and interrogating activists coming to pick her up from prison. 

Even more concerning, her family, who used to openly share updates about the journalist’s situation, is now unreachable, and in the weeks prior to Zhang Zhan’s scheduled release, human rights defenders and lawyers were threatened by authorities and warned not to raise her case internationally. Zhang Zhan had been severely weakened by a hunger strike she had carried out to protest her innocence, and there are credible reasons to believe that her health has deteriorated even further during her final months of detention, possibly motivating the Chinese regime to keep her hidden from the public eye. 

“We are raising alarm now on the urgent situation of Zhang Zhan, who is currently missing following her expected release from prison after four long years and may be seriously ill. We are also deeply concerned by troubling reports of pressure against those close to her, including her family and lawyers. No one should go through what Zhang Zhan has been forced to endure in retaliation for her reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, and this persecution must stop now. The Chinese authorities must immediately disclose her whereabouts and ensure her full and unconditional release. We urge the diplomatic community to employ all possible measures in their relations with Beijing until her safety and freedom are confirmed.

Rebecca Vincent
RSF’s Director of Campaigns

In China, reporters locked up for their work often remain under detention or surveillance even upon completion of their prison term. The European Union, the UK and the US have expressed deep concern over reports that Zhang Zhan has disappeared, following her expected release.

Zhang Zhan was arrested in May 2020, while covering the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, in central-eastern China. She had posted more than 100 videos on social media before being arrested on 14 May 2020 and sentenced to four years in prison by a Shanghai court seven months later.

Serious concerns about Zhang's health

On several occasions, RSF has called for her release and warned about the ill treatment that she has been subjected to while in prison. 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. 

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, which is half of what she weighed prior to detention. Zhang is also suffering from severe malnutrition, a gastrointestinal disease, and a low white blood cell count. 

China, the world's biggest prison for journalists and press freedom defenders with at least 119 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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