Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Chinese Journalist Zhang Zhan, Jailed for Exposing Wuhan Virus in 2020, ‘Close to Death’ in Prison

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: November 4, 2021

Amnesty International reported Thursday, Nov. 4, that imprisoned Chinese activist and reporter Zhang Zhan is at imminent risk of death if she is not released to receive medical treatment.

The former lawyer turned citizen journalist was sentenced to four years in prison on Dec. 28, 2020, for posting on social media about the government’s early handling of the outbreak.

Zhang traveled to Wuhan in February 2020 where she provided vital updates on what was happening on the ground — revealing how Chinese government officials had detained independent reporters and harassed families of COVID-19 patients. 

37-year-old Zhang, who has gone on intermittent hunger strikes to protest her incarceration, now weighs less than 40 kilograms (about 90 pounds) according to her brother Zhang Ju’s Oct. 30 Twitter post, shedding light on the journalist’s dire situation.

“I don’t think she’s going to live much longer,” he said. “If she doesn’t make it through the coming winter, I hope the world will remember her as she once was,” the post read.

‘She will be in huge danger’

Zhang’s mother Zhang Zhan told Radio Free Asia that she had a supervised video call with her daughter on Oct. 28, describing her situation as extremely dangerous.

“She can’t walk unassisted now, and her head keeps drooping as she speaks. She will be in huge danger if they don’t release her on medical parole. I cried for several hours straight after I got out [from the video call],” Zhang’s mother said.

Gwen Lee, China Campaigner at Amnesty International said Zhang who appears to be at grave risk of dying in prison should “never have been jailed in the first place,” and added “Chinese authorities must release her immediately so that she can end her hunger strike and receive the appropriate medical treatment she desperately needs.”

Lee emphasized the unlawful nature of Zhang’s detention, “the Chinese government’s prosecution of Zhang Zhan, simply because she tried to uncover what was happening in Wuhan amid huge government secrecy about the pandemic, is a shameful attack on human rights,” and added that “if Zhang dies in prison, her blood will be on the Chinese governments’ hands.”

According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Zhang first went missing in Wuhan on May 14, 2020 and was later revealed to be in Shanghai awaiting imprisonment after being detained and convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

After being incarcerated in June of last year, Zhang began a hunger strike in protest of what she believed to be an unlawful and sham trial. By December, she had become so feeble that she could no longer walk unassisted and had to be placed in a wheelchair.

Amnesty International reported that authorities had “force-fed her and restrained her for days at a time to prevent her from removing a feeding tube. [Zhang] was also forced to wear shackles and hand restraints 24 hours a day for more than three months as punishment for her hunger strike.”

On July 31, Zhang was temporarily admitted into a hospital for severe malnutrition. However she was returned to prison shortly afterward despite her increasingly worsening health condition.

Chinese authorities have also refused to let her speak with her attorneys or allowed in-person visits with her family. 

A petition to free Zhang is now available on Amnesty International’s website.