Zhang Zhan

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan is serving a four-year prison sentence in the Shanghai City Women’s Prison for picking quarrels and provoking trouble for her coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Police arrested Zhang, a freelance video reporter, on May 14, 2020.

Zhang covered the pandemic on Twitter, which later changed its name to X, and YouTube from Wuhan, the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, beginning in early February 2020.

Zhang went missing in Wuhan on May 14, 2020, one day after she published a video critical of the government’s countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center, in Shanghai.

On June 19, Zhang’s family received a formal arrest notice, according to a report by U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia. 

Chinese human rights news website Weiquanwang reported that Zhang was previously detained in 2019 after writing articles and staging performance art in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Zhang’s former lawyer Wen Yu told Radio Free Asia in a separate interviews in September 2020 that Zhang had been put on a feeding drip after engaging in a hunger strike. 

On September 15, 2020, Zhang was formally charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to a leaked indictment published by Radio Free Asia. She was sentenced to four years in prison on December 28, according to news reports. 

On October 29, 2020, Wen visited Zhang at the detention center and said he decided to withdraw from her case due to pressure from authorities, according to Radio Free Asia.

Zhang was briefly hospitalized in 2021, when her health worsened after she went on a hunger strike following her arrest, according to news reports

In December 2022, Zhang’s brother Zhang Ju posted pictures of a handwritten letter from Zhang dated October 5, which was only sent out by the prison in late November. In the letter, she said she was fine and had celebrated her birthday with officers who cooked extra food for her. Zhang Ju later deleted the posts. 

On August 31, 2023, Radio Free Asia reported that Zhang was hospitalized for stomach illness caused by her hunger strike and that she weighed 37 kilograms (81 pounds), half of what she used to weigh. 

In October 2023, CPJ sent a message to the Shanghai City People’s Government seeking comment but did not receive a response.