Chinese journalist jailed for Covid-19 coverage in precarious health after hunger strike, family say

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Citizen journalist jailed for covering China’s initial response to Covid in Wuhan is on the verge of death after going on hunger strike, her family said, prompting new calls from human rights groups man for his immediate release.

Zhang Zhan, 38, a former lawyer, traveled to Wuhan in February 2020 to report on chaos at the epicenter of the pandemic, questioning authorities’ handling of the outbreak in her smartphone videos.

She was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced in December to four years in prison for “choosing quarrels and causing unrest”, a charge commonly used to quell dissent.

She is now severely underweight and “may not live very long,” her brother Zhang Ju wrote last week on a Twitter account verified by people familiar with the matter.

Zhang went on a hunger strike and was force-fed with nasal tubes, his legal team, who had no information on his current condition, told AFP earlier this year.

“She may not survive the coming cold winter,” Zhang Ju wrote, adding that he had urged his sister in letters to “take care of her”.

“In his heart it seems there is only God and his beliefs, not caring about anything else.”

Zhang Ju’s messages sparked new calls for her sister’s release, with Amnesty International urging the Chinese government on Thursday to “release her immediately so that she can end her hunger strike and receive the appropriate medical treatment she needs.” in desperate need ”.

Amnesty activist Gwen Lee said in a statement that Zhang’s detention was a “shameful human rights violation”.

A relative of the citizen journalist, who declined to be named, told AFP that the family asked to meet Zhang more than three weeks ago at the Shanghai Women’s Prison where she is being held but was not. has not received a response.

AFP could not reach Zhang Ju as Zhang’s mother declined to comment.

Shanghai prison also offered no response when approached by AFP.

Zhang can no longer walk or even lift his head without help, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

RSF East Asia bureau chief Cedric Alviani said “the international community (must) put pressure on the Chinese regime and secure the immediate release of Zhang Zhan before it is too late.”

“She was only doing her duty as a journalist and should never have been detained, let alone receiving a four-year prison sentence.”

Four journalists arrested after reporting from Wuhan

China has reveled in its success in limiting domestic infections to a trickle of sporadic epidemics.

The government has put forward a story crediting the Communist Party with bringing life back almost to normal even as the death toll and infection continues to explode around the world.

But those who threaten the official version by raising questions about the government’s early cover-up and handling of the Wuhan outbreak face the party’s wrath.

Zhang is one of a group of four citizen journalists – including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua – detained after reporting from Wuhan.

(AFP)

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