Appeals for release of ailing Chinese writer ignored

New York, September 25, 2007 —The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that imprisoned writer Zhang Jianhong has been transferred to Qiaosi prison in the eastern province of Zhejiang, despite numerous appeals for his release on medical parole. Zhang has been diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder that could lead to permanent paralysis if left untreated.
In a letter to his wife, Dong Min, Zhang said that he was transferred to the prison from the Ningbo detention center on September 20, according to the Chinese rights group Minsheng Guancha and Chinese-language news reports. He also wrote that his condition had worsened in recent months because he was not receiving proper medical treatment.

Zhang, who is also known by the pen name Li Hong, is serving a six-year sentence on charges of “inciting subversion of state authority” based on his Internet writings. Zhang had been transferred to the Ningbo detention center from Changhu prison in Zhejiang in June after a medical evaluation determined that he suffered from a rare nerve disorder that could lead to permanent paralysis if not treated. However, in the three months that Zhang spent in the Ningbo detention center, he did not receive medical treatment and was not allowed visits with his family or his lawyer, according to Zhang’s letter to his wife and CPJ sources in China. Dong Min has not been allowed to contact him since June.

Dong Min believes that Zhang’s transfer to Qiaosi prison indicates that authorities have rejected his repeated appeals for release on medical parole, although she has not received any official notice from the government.

“Zhang Jianhong should never have been jailed in the first place,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s Executive Director. “By keeping him in prison now, denying him urgent medical care, and failing to inform his family of his situation, Chinese authorities are showing their blatant disregard for international human rights standards.”

Zhang was arrested on September 6, 2006, just days after posting an essay online about China’s human rights record and, in particular, the poor treatment of journalists and their sources in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic games. In March 2007, the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court, in Zhejiang, convicted him of “inciting subversion of state authority” and sentenced him to a six-year jail term followed by one year’s deprivation of political rights.

“The grave mistreatment of Zhang violates the commitments that China made when it was granted the games in 2001,” added Simon. CPJ outlined the country’s failure to follow through on pledges to increase media freedom for the 2008 Games in its report “Falling Short: As the 2008 Olympics Approach, China Falters on Press Freedom.”

Zhang, founding editor of the popular news and literary Web site Aiqinhai (Aegean Sea) and a contributor to numerous other Chinese-language Web sites published overseas, was accused of writing 60 articles that “slandered the government and China’s social system to vent his discontent with the government.”

CPJ’s direct appeal last month to President Hu Jintao seeking Zhang’s immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds has so far gone unanswered. In its open letter sent August 16, CPJ noted that continued efforts to control the media and silence political dissidents did great damage to China’s reputation just as the country seeks to improve its image one year before the Beijing Olympics. China currently holds at least 28 journalists in prison, according to CPJ research.