Chinese journalist who exposed China’s ‘mishandling’ of COVID-19 close to death in jail, family says

A Chinese journalist responsible for exposing the mishandling of COVID-19 in early 2020 was sentenced to prison this year, where she is on a hunger strike and severely underweight.

Zhang Zhan is a 38-year old former lawyer. In February 2020, she visited Wuhan to capture how the novel coronavirus was being handled by authorities there. She used her cell phone to record what the inside of hospitals looked like: bedridden patients lined up and left  in the hallways. This resulted in police “manhandl[ing] and intimidat[ing]” her in an effort to get the recording from being shared.

Several months later, in May 2020, she was arrested and detained by authorities for investigation. Seven months of detention later, in December, she was sentenced to four years in prison. Her charge was “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Since being arrested, she has been on a hunger strike in protest of “the inhumane and illegal treatment being given to her”. A lawyer on her case, Zhange Keke said of the strike, “By not eating, she wants to protest against the illegal nature of her treatment. She believes that not eating is a way to tell them they are wrong.” Her starvation has led to her being fed with nasal tubes to keep her alive, but she is still severely underweight. 

Her brother, Zhang Ju, said on Twitter that she is 177cm (5’9) and 40kg (88lbs). “She may not survive the coming cold winter. I hope the world remember how she used to be.” Amnesty International, a human rights organization, called the case a “shameful attack on human rights” and have pushed for her immediate release.

“Release her immediately so that she can end her hunger strike and receive the appropriate medical treatment she desperately needs,” the organization said in a statement. Gwen Lee, a campaigner at Amnesty said, “If Zhang Shan dies in prison, her blood will be on the Chinese government’s hands.”




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