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 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. She was sentenced that December, 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 after her health worsened after she went on a hunger strike following her arrest, according to news reports. In September 2022, Zhang’s lawyer Zhang Keke told CPJ via messaging app that Zhang was again eating normally but her health remained concerning. The lawyer said her family were not allowed to visit or communicate with her online, and Zhang’s mother last saw her via video conference in January, according to human rights news website Minsheng Guancha.

In September 2022, CPJ sent a message to the Shanghai City People’s Government seeking comment via messaging app but did not receive a response.