China: Release journalist Zhang Zhan

China: Release journalist Zhang Zhan - Media

Image from a video by BBC Chinese and Andreas Illmer.

Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan has been imprisoned since May 2020 after her illuminating coverage of Wuhan’s initial handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. As health worsens in prison, bringing her to the brink of death, the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) reiterates its demand for her release. Join our petition here to urge President Xi Jinping to drop all charges against her and ensure her immediate release from prison.

Zhang, a former lawyer, has been on a prolonged hunger strike to protest her detention and is being force-fed through a nasal tube. Family sources say Zhang’s health has worsened to the extent that she is now in mortal danger.

After a mere three-hour trial on December 8, 2020, the Shanghai Pudong New Area Court sentenced Zhang to four years in prison for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble.’ 

Zhang’s family has stressed that the journalist has gone through drastic and extreme weight loss.  She ‘may not survive the coming cold winter,’ they said on Twitter. The journalist has also been mistreated in prison and her family was denied visiting rights. Earlier in August, she was hospitalised for 11 days as her health worsened.

In September 2021, the CFWIJ joined Reporters Without Borders (RSF), along with 43 other non-governmental human rights organisations, and urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to drop the bogus charges against Zhang and release her immediately.  Zhang already suffered from stomach ulcers and reflux esophagitis, according to her family. Her time in prison has taken a significant toll on her body. 

As Zhang’s health worsens, the CFWIJ reiterates its call for her immediate release. The arrest of the journalist was condemnable to begin with. But to continue to keep her in prison even as her life is at risk due to mistreatment by the state is abominable. 

China ranked 177 out of the 180 countries listed in the World Press Freedom Index 2021. The country is the world’s largest captor of journalists, with at least 122 journalists imprisoned – many of them in life-threatening conditions. 

Like Zhang, at least 10 other press freedom defenders languishing in China’s prisons are at risk of death. These include investigative reporter and RSF World Press Freedom award-winner Huang Qi, Swedish publisher Gui Minhai and Uyghur journalist and Václav Havel Prize and Sakharov Prize recipient Ilham Tohti. 

In February 2021, Kunchok Jinpa, a leading source of information about Tibet for foreign media before his arrest in 2013, succumbed to the ill-treatment and torture he was subjected to during his time in prison.

Prior to that, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and RSF Press Freedom Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and dissident blogger Yang Tongyan both died of cancer in 2017 as their symptoms went untreated in prison. 

Join our call to urge the Chinese authorities to release Zhang immediately. She is in urgent need of proper medical attention and treatment. Sign our petition to secure her release and help save her life. 

Sign the petition here

Signatories include:

  1. Coalition For Women In Journalism
  2. Human Rights Watch
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. PEN International
  5. IFEX
  6. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  7. The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
  8. The Overseas Press Club of America
  9. The International Women’s Media Foundation
  10. Sri Lanka Young Journalists’ Association
  11. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  12. Free Press Unlimited