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RSF and 44-NGO Coalition Urge Xi Jinping to Release Covid-19 Reporter on Hunger Strike

Zhang Zhan, Covid-19 reporter in China - credit: Reporters sans Frontirers (RSF)

Reporter Without Borders

On September 17th, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a coalition of 44 human rights NGOs urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to exonerate and release Covid-19 reporter Zhang Zhan, who has been on hunger strike since May 2020, for which she was forced-fed. 

In a joint letter published on 17th September 2021, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a coalition of 44 human rights NGOs urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to exonerate and release Zhang Zhan, 38, a journalist who covered the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in the city of Wuhan (Central China). 

On 28th December 2020, after a mere three-hour trial, the Shanghai Pudong New Area Court sentenced her to four years in prison for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’. To demonstrate her innocence, Zhang has been on hunger strike since May 2020, for which she was force-fed through a nasal tube, and is at risk of dying if not immediately released.

“Zhang Zhan did not commit any crime but instead courageously risked her life to inform the public on the health crisis. She should never have been arrested, let alone subjected to a harsh prison sentence”, says the head of RSF East Asia bureau, Cédric Alviani, who urges President Xi Jinping to “ensure that Zhang Zhan is released before it’s too late.”

The letter also mentions: “As a collective of non-governmental organisations defending human rights and freedom of the press, we urge you to exonerate and release human rights defender, journalist, and former lawyer Zhang Zhan, who is suffering from a critical health condition and may die soon if she remains in detention.”

According to her family, Zhang has lost significant weight and was hospitalised for 11 days in early August but has since been returned to prison despite her deteriorating health. Zhang Zhan was also reportedly the victim of ill treatment and her family has been systematically denied visits.

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) wrote in a press release that reports showed that Zhang’s health condition had deteriorated during August following an intermittent hunger strike in prison. IFJ urges the Chinese authorities to exonerate and release Zhang immediately.

Along with Zhang Zhan, at least 10 other press freedom defenders detained in China may soon suffer a deadly fate, including investigative reporter and RSF World Press Freedom Awardee Huang QiSwedish publisher Gui Minhai and Uighur journalist Ilham Tohti, recipient of the Václav Havel Prize and Sakharov Prize. 

Kunchok Jinpa, a leading source of information about Tibet for journalists, died in February 2021 as a result of mistreatment in detention. Nobel Peace Prize and RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and dissident blogger Yang Tongyan both died in 2017 from cancer that was left untreated in detention. 

China, ranked 177th out of 180 in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index, is the world’s largest captor of journalists with at least 122 detained.


Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Amnesty International

Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia

China Aid Association

China Change

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Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Circulate Open Letter to Shanghai Authorities Appealing for Journalist Zhang Zhan to Receive Emergency Medical Treatment

We say that Zhang Zhan’s innocence manifests not only in the sense of natural law, but also in the sense of practical law. Her benign behavior places no menace on society, and is wholly inconsistent with the criminal definition of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang Zhan’s civil disobedience to persecution can be justified from all three aspects of law, reason, and conscience.

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