Jailed Chinese citizen journalist, disappeared rights lawyer win Lin Zhao award

The award comes amid growing fears for Zhang Zhan's life after months of hunger-strike in a Shanghai prison.
By Wang Yun
Jailed Chinese citizen journalist, disappeared rights lawyer win Lin Zhao award Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan is shown in a screengrab from a video, Dec. 28, 2020.

Jailed citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and disappeared rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng have won the Lin Zhao Freedom Award for their work promoting Chinese civil society and advancing the rule of law.

The U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid said it had presented Gao's award to his U.S.-based wife Geng He, while China Change founder Chen Yaxue accepted Zhang's award, which honors a Mao-era dissident executed by the Chinese government.

"ChinaAid's Selection Committee unanimously voted to honor Ms. Zhang, a Christian, a lawyer, and a fearless, citizen journalist," the group said in a statement announcing the award in May.

Lawyer-turned-journalist Zhang travelled to Wuhan and "courageously investigated the area ... demonstrat[ing] a dedication to the victims of the COVID-19 that touched the world, and a spirit of fearless sacrifice," the group said.

The award comes amid growing fear that Zhang is close to death in prison after months of intermittent hunger striking to protest her innocence.

"She is dying behind bars in the Shanghai Women's Prison," Cao told the reception where the awards were presented.

"I believe this may be a coincidence, but this is the same prison where Lin Zhao was detained decades ago," Cao said.

Mao-era Chinese dissident Lin Zhao, whose birth name was Peng Lingzhao, was a writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Initially a star student at the prestigious Peking University, Lin was branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in the 1950s for her criticism of then-supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.

She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36, and her family was ordered to pay five cents for the bullet that killed her.

Lin used the slogan "give me freedom, or give me death" as the subtitle of her poem Seagull, published in underground journals more than half a century ago, which Cao referenced in her acceptance speech on Zhang Zhan's behalf.

"To most of us, 'give me freedom or give me death' is just a slogan, but Zhang Zhan has put it into practice," Cao said.

Geng said she still hasn't heard from her husband since his disappearance while under the control of state security police in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi.

"It's human nature to fight for freedom and human rights," Gao said in her acceptance speech. "This never ends, and is handed down the generations."

Nationwide human rights crisis

ChinaAid president Bo Fu said there is currently a nationwide human rights crisis under way in China.

"Under CCP rule, human rights, religious freedom and the rule of law are in the worst crisis anyone has seen since the Cultural Revolution [1966-1967]," Fu told RFA.

He said the prize money associated with the Lin Zhao award -- 25,000 yuan -- was chosen to match the distance in li -- a traditional Chinese measure of distance -- covered by defeated communist troops and followers during the Long March (1934–35).

"This number means that we expect the fight for human rights in China to be like the Long March," he said.

Meanwhile, the State Department has called on China to release rights activist Guo Feixiong, also known as Yang Maodong, who was detained by police in the southern province of Guangdong at the weekend, after he wrote to premier Li Keqiang asking for permission to leave the country to visit his ailing wife in the United States.

"We call on [the Chinese] authorities to release him immediately and allow him to depart China to care for his critically ill wife in the United States," a State Department spokesperson said in comments emailed to RFA on Tuesday.

"We remain alarmed by human rights violations and abuses in China and call on [the Chinese] authorities to respect the fundamental freedoms to which their citizens are entitled consistent with China’s international obligations and commitments," the statement said.

"We continue to stand with all defenders of human rights around the world, including Guo, who seek to speak their minds freely without fear of punishment or violence."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.