Chinese Citizen Journalist, Imprisoned For Covering Early Stages of Pandemic, Not Well, Lawyer says

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HONG KONG, CHINA - DECEMBER 28: A police officer stand in front of posters on water barricades in support for twelve Hong Kong residents detained in mainland China and former lawyer Zhang Zhan outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government on December 28, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. The first day of trial for the twelve residents who tried to flee Hong Kong to Taiwan by boat began in the city of Shenzhen. (Image: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Zhang Zhan a citizen journalist who covered the spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan during the early days of the pandemic and was subsequently imprisoned for 4-years for “picking fights and provoking trouble” after posting numerous videos from Wuhan to social media is said to be doing “not well” according to her lawyer.  

“Picking fights and provoking trouble” is a vaguely defined charge often used in political cases by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Zhang was reportedly hospitalized on July 31 weighing less than 40 kilograms (90 pounds) after she engaged in a hunger strike to protest her incarceration, Zhang’s mother said on Chinese social media. 

Authorities had notified her family of her poor health and told them to come to the prison, said Peng Yonghe, a lawyer working with Zhang’s family. 

On August 2, Zhang’s parents and her brother went to Shanghai to visit Zhang however were only permitted to speak with her over the phone. 

“We just hope that she can get out of jail, because her hunger strike is really worrying,” said Peng. 

Jane Wang, an activist with Humanitarian China, A U.S.-based group founded by Chinese dissidents, said hospitals in Chinese prisons are generally poorly equipped and not prepared for serious illness. Wang has been helping spread Zhang’s mother’s message on Chinese social media platforms. 

In May of 2020, authorities detained Zhang in an attempt to control the narrative around the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zhang had traveled to Wuhan in February of last year, shortly after the city was placed under a strict lock-down, with millions of residents forbidden to leave.

While in Wuhan, Zhang uploaded dozens of shaky, short cell phone videos to YouTube, showing deserted streets and the general state of affairs of the city under lock-down. 

One video depicted her visit to the local police station where Dr. Li Wenliang had previously been reprimanded for spreading word about the outbreak where she tried to ask about the case. 

Another video shows a security guard repeatedly knocking her phone away and threatening her as she filmed the dispute.