After years of hunger strikes, jailed Chinese citizen journalist is in hospital

Zhang Zhan, who reported from the emerging COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, weighs just 37 kilograms.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
After years of hunger strikes, jailed Chinese citizen journalist is in hospital Zhang Zhan, a jailed Chinese citizen journalist, is scheduled for release in May 2024.
Credit: File screenshot from video

Jailed Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was recently admitted to hospital following months of intermittent hunger strikes in protest at her jailing for reporting from the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, according to fellow activists.

Zhang, 39, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment by Shanghai's Pudong District People's Court on Dec. 28, 2020, and has been eating very little, rather than refusing all food, to avoid being force-fed by tube.

Zhang, who is scheduled for release in May 2024, was admitted to hospital from Shanghai Women's Prison for digestive diseases linked to malnutrition following several months of hunger strike, fellow rights activists said.

Rights activist Wang Jianhong, who founded the Zhang Zhan Concern Group, said Zhang's illness remains life-threatening.

"Zhang Zhan's physical health is very poor, because she has been refusing to eat for a long time now," Wang said. "This semi-hunger strike has been going on for more than two years."

"The situation doesn't seem to be improving, yet she still has more than eight months of her sentence to run," Wang said, and called for Zhang's release on medical parole. 

"If the authorities don't offer humanitarian treatment and nutritional supplements, she won't survive her sentence."

Repeated attempts to contact Zhang's family met with no response on Thursday.

Weighs just 37 kilograms

Gansu-based rights activist Li Dawei said he had recently spoken with Zhang's mother, who visited her daughter in prison last month, and said she was “almost skin and bones.”

Zhang currently weighs 37 kilograms (82 pounds), roughly half her normal body weight, Li said.

"The main issue is disorders of the digestive system," Li told Radio Free Asia. "She also has a low white blood cell count and excessive tumor markers."

Zhang appeared at her trial in a wheelchair, where she pleaded not guilty. A guilty plea is typically a prerequisite for more lenient treatment in China's judicial system.

Li said Zhang had managed to avoid force-feeding by tube by eating around half or one-third of what other prisoners are given.

"She is using this as a way to fight back and show her innocence, and that her trial and detention by the authorities were unfair," he said. "Her mentality is that of a political prisoner displaying resistance."

Jailed for allegedly fabricating news

Li said he expects Zhang to be released from prison as scheduled, but that it's unlikely she will be free.

"There's a question mark over whether or not she will be at liberty following her release," he said. "Look at me – I haven't regained my freedom since my release."

"Whenever I go out nowadays, the state security police follow me wherever I go, and my passport [and other travel documents] have all been declared invalid for no reason," Li said.

Zhang was jailed for allegedly fabricating two items in her reporting from Wuhan.

The first item was her report that Wuhan citizens were forced to pay a fee to get tested for COVID-19, and the second was that residents confined to their homes under a city-wide lockdown had been sent rotten vegetables by neighborhood committees.

Zhang said she admitted to all of the material facts of the case, but refused to plead guilty to the charge, saying that the information she posted wasn't false.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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