Zhang Zhan, Chinese Citizen Journalist, Is Ailing From Hunger Strike

A Chinese citizen journalist who was imprisoned for exposing the failures of the federal government’s preliminary response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan is severely unwell from a starvation strike, in accordance with messages from her household shared by her former lawyer and a pal.

The journalist, Zhang Zhan, 37, had traveled to Wuhan from her dwelling in Shanghai and spent the early days of the outbreak documenting the town’s strict lockdown and the extreme affect it had on residents’ livelihoods and freedoms.

Ms. Zhang’s stories challenged the federal government’s efforts to painting its response as competent and caring. She was convicted final 12 months of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a obscure cost usually used to focus on dissent, and sentenced to 4 years in jail after a three-hour, closed-door trial.

Ms. Zhang started a starvation strike after her arrest in May of final 12 months. Her legal professionals beforehand mentioned that the authorities had used a feeding tube to feed her and restrained her fingers. Her mom, Shao Wenxia, described it as a “partial hunger strike,” with Ms. Zhang consuming fruit and cookies however not meat, rice or greens.

The journalist appeared at her trial in December in a wheelchair, and one in all her legal professionals mentioned then that she had already misplaced vital weight and that her look had vastly modified from just some weeks earlier.

Ms. Zhang, who’s 5 toes 10 inches tall and weighed about 165 kilos earlier than her arrest, now weighs lower than 90 kilos, in accordance with a message Ms. Shao despatched to her former lawyer, Zhang Keke. He shared the message with The New York Times.

A police officer attempting to cease journalists as Zhang Keke, a lawyer representing Ms. Zhang, arrived at a courtroom in Shanghai in December.Credit…Kyodo News, by way of Associated Press

Ms. Zhang’s mom has not been capable of see her in individual since her arrest as a result of the authorities have refused to let her go to, Mr. Zhang mentioned. Ms. Shao mentioned within the message that her daughter was hospitalized on July 31, and that her household was permitted to talk along with her by cellphone on Aug. 2. She returned to jail on Aug. 11.

“She still insisted that she is not guilty, and will not eat regularly,” Ms. Shao wrote. Ms. Zhang was affected by a gastric ulcer and was so weak that she wanted assist getting up, her mom mentioned in one other message to Mr. Zhang. Ms. Shao couldn’t be reached for remark.

An official on the Shanghai Prison Administration Bureau, when reached by phone on Tuesday, confirmed that Ms. Zhang had returned to Shanghai Women’s Prison after receiving medical remedy, however declined to reply additional questions on her situation.

Thus far, Ms. Zhang has not responded to pleas from her household to renew consuming usually.

“Our first hope is that she can stop her hunger strike,” mentioned Peng Yonghe, a Chinese lawyer and a pal of Ms. Zhang’s. “Second, we hope that she can come out as soon as possible.”

Mr. Peng cautioned that it was unlikely that Ms. Zhang’s situation would result in early launch. While the Chinese system does enable for medical parole, circumstances caused by a starvation strike wouldn’t qualify, he mentioned.

Human rights activists have raised fears that if Ms. Zhang’s well being doesn’t enhance she may share the destiny of different Chinese dissidents who’ve died in custody.

“She might actually die in prison,” mentioned Wang Jianhong, who directs the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China. “It is not groundless because we’ve seen so many previous examples.”

Cao Shunli, who had demanded that an official human rights report that China submitted to the United Nations embody citizen voices, died of a lung an infection in 2014. Her household mentioned she had been denied well timed medical remedy. Liu Xiaobo, who received the Nobel Peace Prize whereas in jail, died of liver most cancers whereas underneath guard in a hospital in 2017.

Ms. Zhang had declined to attraction her conviction, telling her legal professionals that she refused to acknowledge the validity of the authorized course of used to imprison her.

She was the primary citizen journalist tried for difficult the official narrative of China’s pandemic response. Others together with Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua had been detained and reportedly later launched, though Mr. Chen seems to be underneath surveillance. The whereabouts of one other, Fang Bin, stays unclear.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong hanging indicators exterior the central authorities’s workplace in assist of Ms. Zhang in December.Credit…Miguel Candela/EPA, by way of Shutterstock

News shops in China are strictly managed by the federal government, and social media platforms like Weibo censor delicate topics. But within the early days of the pandemic, when the authorities had been distracted with controlling the outbreak, some citizen journalists, working independently, chipped away on the official narrative of a heroic response.

While in Wuhan, the town the place the coronavirus first emerged, Ms. Zhang posted movies that confirmed how the outbreak had overwhelmed a hospital and a crematory. She confirmed how the town’s extreme lockdown had pressured companies to shut and pushed the costs of greens up.

After a metropolis official mentioned residents needs to be taught learn how to correctly categorical their gratitude to the federal government, she interviewed individuals on the streets about whether or not they felt grateful.

“We’re adults,” she mentioned. “We don’t need to be taught.”

In what turned out to be her final video earlier than her detention, she criticized what she noticed as unduly harsh technique of imposing the lockdown on Wuhan.

“The government’s way of managing this city has just been intimidation and threats,” she mentioned. “This is truly the tragedy of this country.”