Calls for urgent release of Christian citizen journalist critically ill on hunger strike

Zhang Zhan was jailed for reporting on the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan.(Photo: Deutsche Welle)

Chinese Christian citizen journalist Zhang Zhan is in critical condition after going on hunger strike in protest at her imprisonment.

She is one of several citizen journalists who were detained by the authorities in China for reporting on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan in May 2020. 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said she was held for seven months in pre-trial detention during which time she was forcibly fed by officials after going on hunger strike. 

She was also shackled and had her hands bound 24 hours a day for over three months, CSW said. 

Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" at a closed-door trial last December.

Her health had seriously deteriorated by this time to the extent that she required a wheelchair, CSW said. 

Despite the damage to her health, she has continued with a partial hunger strike since December, telling her lawyer during their last meeting in January, "I will continue to fight in a Christian way, even at the cost of my life. I will make them [the Chinese authorities] repent, and I will continue to pray for God's great love to guide me."

Her parents, who have not been allowed to visit her, were informed by prison authorities on 2 August that she was hospitalised at the end of last month and is critically ill due to severe malnourishment. 

CSW has called Zhang's detention and imprisonment "unjust", and is calling for her immediate and unconditional release.

CSW's Founder President, Mervyn Thomas said the rapid deterioration in her health was "alarming".

"Ms Zhang has been unlawfully imprisoned for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression," he said.

"We urgently call on the Chinese authorities to release Zhang Zhan on medical parole as soon as possible and to ensure she receives prompt and adequate medical care.

"We further call on the authorities to ensure her family is allowed to meet with her directly and receives timely and accurate information from medical professionals about her condition and status."