Zhang Zhan, a Chinese activist who showed the world China's initial response to COVID-19, is now on her deathbed. The former lawyer turned journalist was imprisoned last year for trying to report from Wuhan and questioning the government on their handling of the pandemic. The charge put on her was 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble'- to cover up the real reason why she was jailed.
The journalist's brother, Zhang Ju, revealed her plight to the world on social media. "She may not survive the coming cold winter," he said, stating that she has become underweight and asked his sister to take care of herself. He added, "In her heart, it seems there is only God and her beliefs, with no care for anything else."
Hunger Strike In Jail, Force Fed Through Feeding Tubes
According to Amnesty International, Zhang Zhan went on hunger strike from June 2020, to protest against the detention. By the end of the year, she became extremely underweight, rendering her weak. She had to attend her trial in a wheelchair. "Prior to the trial, authorities force-fed her and restrained her for days at a time to prevent her from removing a feeding tube. They also forced Zhang to wear shackles and hand restraints 24 hours a day for more than three months as punishment for her hunger strike," said their website.
In July this year, she was admitted to the hospital because of her weakness. She has returned to prison and is still on a partial hunger strike, posing a further danger to her already deteriorating health. NDTV reported that people close to the journalist had asked permission to meet her more than three weeks ago at Shanghai's women's prison. However, they did not get any response about the same.
Asking For Her Immediate Release
Amnesty International released a statement on Thursday, November 4, asking the Chinese authorities to release Zhang Zhan immediately so that she could get the necessary treatment right away. Calling it a 'shameful attack on human rights', the organisation's China campaigner Gwen Lee, said, "The Chinese authorities must release her immediately so that she can end her hunger strike and receive the appropriate medical treatment she desperately needs." The country has taken a dismissive approach, calling these demands 'anti-China political manipulation'.
Zhan is not the only citizen journalist going through this ordeal. Even before COVID-19, several activists and journalists who raised their voices against the government have been subjected to harassment, which has proved fatal in the past. Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo died in jail after he was denied treatment for cancer and visits from his family in 2017. In 2014, another human rights campaigner named Cao Shunli passed away in custody as well due to organ failure.