A pro-democracy activist holds a placard with the picture of Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan outside the Chinese central government's liaison office, in Hong Kong, on Dec. 28, 2020. Zhang is in poor health due to her hunger strike in prison. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan hospitalized after her health declines in prison

Taipei, August 26, 2021 – Chinese authorities must release imprisoned journalist Zhang Zhan immediately and ensure that she receives proper medical care, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Zhang, an independent video journalist, was arrested last May and sentenced to four years in prison in December for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after she published videos critical of the government’s COVID-19 response, according to CPJ research and news reports.

On hunger strike since her arrest and now weighing less than 90 pounds, she was hospitalized on July 31 after her health worsened, news reports said. Human rights activists familiar with Zhang’s case have warned that she could die in custody, according to news reports.

“Zhang Zhan was jailed in China merely for exercising her right of free expression as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator in Washington, D.C. “It’s both shameful and tragic that Zhang Zhan could die from a hunger strike to protest the outrageous injustice of her imprisonment. She must be freed immediately.”

In May, Zhang’s mother Shao Wenxia told CPJ via phone that she was very concerned about Zhang’s health and has been repeatedly denied visits to Zhang. Shao was permitted to speak with Zhang on the phone on August 2, according to The New York Times. According to the same report, Zhang was returned to prison on August 11.

According to Radio Free Asia’s interview with a family friend, Zhang suffers from stomach ulcers and reflux esophagitis, and Shao fears that Zhang’s organs might fail due to malnutrition. Zhang’s lawyer Zhang Keke told CPJ via messaging app that Shao had requested to apply for medical parole on her daughter’s behalf but authorities denied the application request.

Zhang is currently being held at the Shanghai City Women’s Prison. CPJ contacted the Shanghai City Prison Administration through a form on its website but did not receive any reply.

In 2017, Chinese journalist Yang Tongyan, who had been seriously ill for several years in prison, was granted medical parole when he was terminally ill, and died three months after his release, as CPJ documented. Also that year, Chinese Nobel Laureate and political writer Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer shortly after being released on medical parole, CPJ documented.

In March, Chinese journalist Wang Jing, who was recently released after nearly five years in prison for reporting on human rights issues, told CPJ via phone about her alleged tortured and receiving inadequate medical treatment at a prison in Jilin province.

According to CPJ research, at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China as of December 1, 2020, making the country the worst jailer of journalists worldwide for the second year in a row.