[Below adapted from Amnesty International PDF]
Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported stories related to COVID-19 from Wuhan, has received a prison sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
After Ms. Zhang went missing in May, she was revealed to have been detained by police more than 640km away, in Shanghai. Officials there reportedly force-fed her after she began a hunger strike. She was shackled and her hands were bound 24 hours a day for more than three months. Her lawyer reported that Zhang became dizzy and physically very weak, with pain in her stomach, mouth and throat. On 29 December 2020, Zhang was jailed for four years1.
Chinese citizen journalists are required to obtain the official accreditation to report news, and so their numbers are limited. They face consistent harassment and repression for reporting news and disseminating information that is censored by the government. E.g. Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, who Chen Qiushi, who respectively posted footage of hospitals and deceased victims of Covid-19 in Wuhan.
The USA2 and EU3 have called for her release, and you can too.
To: Chief Procurator Zhang Bencai
Shanghai People’s Procuratorate
648, Jianguo West Road,
Xuhui District, Shanghai Shi 200030
People’s Republic of China
Dear Chief Procurator Zhang,
I am writing to express my grave concern for citizen journalist Zhang Zhan (张展), who has been given a prison sentence for exercising her human right to freedom of opinion and expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Zhang Zhan travelled to Wuhan in February 2020 and reported on the COVID-19 outbreak there, as well as the detention of independent reporters. She was indicted on 15 September on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事罪), for which she faces up to five years in prison. I find it deeply disturbing that she is facing such punishment merely for reporting news about a matter of public interest.
Zhang Zhan used a hunger strike to protest her detention. Authorities in the detention centre reportedly force-fed her against her will, and restrained her arms and legs for more than three months. These actions violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, which is a violation of China’s obligations under international human rights law. I am worried about the impact these actions have had on Zhang Zhan’s health, which her lawyer reports have deteriorated rapidly since September.
I therefore call on you to:
- Release Zhang Zhan immediately and unconditionally, unless there is sufficient credible and admissible evidence that she has committed an internationally recognised offence and received a fair trial
- Respect Zhang Zhan’s right to health, autonomy and expression, and ensure that she has prompt and regular access to medical attention and adequate health care.
- Pending her release, ensure that Zhang Zhan has regular, unrestricted access to family and lawyers of her choice and is not subject to torture or other ill-treatment.
Covid-19 Journalist Tortured for Exposing Truth, Amnesty International, 2020-12-10
1. Zhang Zhan: China jails citizen journalist for Wuhan reports, BBC, 2020-12-30
2. On the Silencing and Prosecution of PRC Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan, US Department of State, 2020-12-29
3. China: Statement by the Spokesperson on sentencing of journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders, European External Action Service, 2020-12-29