Jailed Chinese journalist, freed on medical parole, dies

New York, January 13, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists mourns the death on December 31 of Zhang Jianhong, the founder of Aiqinghai (Aegean Sea), a popular website closed by the Chinese government in 2006, according to several human rights groups. Zhang had been sentenced to six years in prison by a court in Ningbo in the eastern province of Zhejiang in March 2007, charged with “incitement to subvert the state’s authority” for calling for political reform in articles he posted online. 

“Zhang Jianhong’s untimely death is an embittering reminder of China’s record of callously jailing journalists who don’t toe the Communist Party line,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

Zhang’s health had deteriorated significantly in jail, according to his wife, Dong Min, who spoke with CPJ by telephone in October 2008. He suffered from a debilitating disease affecting the nervous system and was unable to perform basic tasks without help. Appeals for parole on medical grounds were not granted and, by 2009, he was no longer able to write, according to the Independent Chinese PEN Center. He was released on medical parole in June 2010, PEN said.

Zhang had written commentary calling for political reform in China and had reported on allegations that the Chinese government illegally procured organs from living prisoners. Zhang’s final article prior to his September 2006 detention decried human rights abuses by the Chinese government and called Beijing’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2008 a scandal.

CPJ data show that China is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, tied this year with Iran with 34 behind bars.