A citizen journalist imprisoned in Wuhan for covering China’s early response to Covid has gone on hunger strike, according to her family, triggering increased calls from rights groups for her quick release.
In February 2020, Journalist Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, travelled to Wuhan to report on the pandemonium in the epicentre of the pandemic, questioning authorities’ handling of the outbreak in her smartphone films.
She was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced to four years in prison in December for “picking quarrels and causing commotion,” a charge that is frequently used to stifle dissent.
Her brother Zhang Ju said last week on a Twitter account verified by persons close to the situation that she is now severely underweight and “may not live for much longer.”
Zhang has been on a hunger strike and has been forced-fed using nasal tubes, according to her legal team, which does not have any information on her present status.
Zhang Ju wrote, “She may not survive the coming cold winter,” adding that he had urged his sister to “take care of herself” in letters.
“It appears that there is only God and her beliefs in her heart, with no regard for anything else.”
Amnesty International urged the Chinese government on Thursday to “free her immediately so that she can cease her hunger strike and receive the essential medical treatment she so needs,” in response to Zhang Ju’s remarks.
Zhang’s detention, according to amnesty campaigner Gwen Lee, is a “shameful attack on human rights.”
A source close to the citizen journalist, who did not want to be identified, told AFP that the family had requested to meet Zhang more than three weeks ago at the Shanghai women’s prison, but had not gotten a response.
Zhang Ju could not be reached by AFP, and Zhang’s mother declined to comment.
Shanghai prison likewise did not respond
When contacted by AFP, the Shanghai prison likewise did not respond.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Zhang is now unable to move or even elevate her head without assistance (RSF).
“The international community (must) apply pressure on the Chinese dictatorship and obtain Zhang Zhan’s urgent release before it is too late,” RSF East Asia Bureau Chief Cedric Alviani said.
“She was merely doing her job as a reporter and should never have been imprisoned, much less sentenced to four years in prison.”
China has gloated over its ability to reduce domestic illnesses to a trickle of rare outbreaks.
Even while death tolls and diseases continue to rise around the world, the government has promoted a narrative that credits the Communist Party with restoring life to near-normalcy.
Those who criticise the government’s early cover-up and management of the Wuhan outbreak, on the other hand, will face the wrath of the party.
Zhang is one of four citizen journalists detained after reporting from Wuhan, including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin, and Li Zehua.