Zhang Zhan

Beats Covered:
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Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan is serving a four-year prison sentence in Shanghai on charges of 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 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, according to those reports.

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

According to Chinese human rights news website Weiquanwang, 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 the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster 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, in which authorities suggested a prison term of four to five years. On September 18, the Pudong Xinqu Procuratorate filed Zhang’s case to the district court for prosecution, according to Wen’s interviews.

On October 29, 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.

On December 28, 2020, a Shanghai court convicted Zhang on the picking quarrels charge, and sentenced her to four years in prison, according to news reports.

In May 2021, Zhang’s mother Shao Wenxia told CPJ via phone that she was very concerned about her daughter’s health and said authorities had repeatedly denied her requests to visit Zhang. 

On July 31, Zhang was hospitalized after her health worsened due to a hunger strike campaign she began following her arrest, according to news reports. Shao was permitted to speak with Zhang on the phone from the hospital on August 2, and the journalist was returned to prison on August 11, according to the New York Times

Radio Free Asia, citing an unnamed family friend, reported that Zhang suffers from stomach ulcers and reflux esophagitis, and Shao told the unnamed friend that she 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.

On October 29, authorities permitted Shao to speak to Zhang via video call, according to the human rights website Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders. Shao said in messages cited by that website that Zhang’s health had worsened, and she feared that her daughter’s life would be in danger if she did not receive medical parole. 

On October 31, Zhang’s brother Zhang Ju tweeted that Zhang looked dangerously thin. 

As of September 2021, Zhang is being held at the Shanghai City Women’s Prison, according to that New York Times report. On September 21, CPJ contacted the Shanghai City Prison Administration through a form on its website, but did not receive any reply.