A Chinese citizen journalist serving four years behind bars over her critical reporting on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak is close to death after going on a hunger strike, her family said.
Zhang Zhan, 38, was convicted in December 2020 by a Shanghai court of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for her video and blog reports from Wuhan during the early days of the pandemic.
Her reports were widely shared on social media earlier that year, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight whistleblowers for documenting the outbreak or questioning the Chinese Communist Party’s response to it.
The former lawyer has been on a hunger strike and was force-fed through nasal tubes, her legal team told Agence France-Presse earlier this year.
Reporters Without Borders said she cannot walk or even raise her head without assistance.
Her brother Zhang Ju wrote last week on a Twitter account verified by people close to the matter that she is severely underweight and “may not live for much longer,” according to AFP.
“She may not survive the coming cold winter,” he wrote, saying he had urged his sister in letters to “take care of herself.”
Zhang Ju added: “In her heart, it seems there is only God and her beliefs, with no care for anything else.”
His posts prompted new calls to let Zhang Zhan go, with Amnesty International urging Beijing on Thursday to “release her immediately so that she can end her hunger strike and receive the appropriate medical treatment she desperately needs.”
Amnesty campaigner Gwen Lee said in a statement that her detention was a “shameful attack on human rights.”
Protests began in support of freeing 12 Hong Kong residents, including Zhang Zhan.Getty Images
A source close to Zhang Zhan told AFP on condition of anonymity that the family had asked to meet her more than three weeks ago at the women’s prison where she is being held but had not gotten a response.
The Shanghai prison did not respond to a request for comment by the news outlet.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry did not comment on the woman’s condition, but dismissed calls from rights groups for her release as “anti-China political manipulation.”
“China is a country with rule of law. Anyone who breaks the law must be punished in accordance with the law,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.
Zhang is among a group of four citizen journalists — including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua — detained for their reporting from Wuhan.