|Born||2 September 1983|
Xianyang, Shaanxi, China
|Occupation||Citizen journalist, lawyer|
|Education||Southwestern University of Finance and Economics|
|Subjects||COVID-19 pandemic in Mainland China|
|Literary movement||Weiquan movement|
Zhang Zhan (simplified Chinese: 张展; traditional Chinese: 張展; pinyin: Zhāng Zhǎn; born 2 September 1983) is a Chinese citizen journalist and former lawyer who travelled to Wuhan in February 2020, from where she reported on the impact of the lockdown measures imposed in the city in response to the COVID-19 outbreak there, and questioned the handling of the crisis by authorities. She was detained in May 2020, and was later tortured and sentenced in December 2020 to four years imprisonment on the charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" (寻衅滋事). She is the first citizen journalist to be sentenced for reporting on the pandemic in China, although at least ten journalists and commentators were known to have been arrested for their coronavirus reporting as of February 2021, with seven remaining missing or detained as of that date. Chen Qiushi reappeared in September 2021.
Zhang was hospitalized from 31 July until 11 August 2021, due to malnutrition after an extended intermittent hunger strike. In late October, her mother and brother considered Zhang to be close to death as she continued her hunger strike, leading to calls by the United States government, Reporters without Borders, and the United Nations human rights office for her immediate unconditional release.
Early life and education
In September 2019, during the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests, Zhang held up an umbrella on Nanjing Road and People's Square in Shanghai in support of the protesters, inscribed with the slogan, "End socialism, Communist Party down." On 9 September, she was detained on suspicion of disturbing the public order until 13 November 2019, during which time she went on hunger strike twice.
Journalism, February to May 2020
On 1 February 2020, Zhang travelled from Shanghai, her place of residence, to Wuhan to cover the COVID-19 pandemic there as a citizen journalist. In a video published by the portal China Change, Zhang stated that prior to her travel to Wuhan, she had been deeply moved by an online post by a Wuhan resident who expressed feeling abandoned by authorities. In dozens of short, shaky videos which she live-streamed and uploaded on Twitter, YouTube, and other social media, she documented overflowing hospitals, empty shops, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (multiple times), crematoria, the detention of independent journalists, and harassment of families of victims of the pandemic seeking accountability. She also posted essays.
One story on 16 February 2020 accused the government of covering up the true numbers of infections and deaths "in the name of maintaining stability", of keeping the media under control, and accused the authorities of "coercively and violently ordering and depriving people of their basic human and property rights" through the imposed strict lockdown. According to Zhang, crematoria in Wuhan were running day and night, during a time when state media claimed that the pandemic was under control. Another video showed her visiting the police station where Li Wenliang had been reprimanded for spreading word about the outbreak, trying to obtain information about his case. In an essay posted in late April, she criticized that those who had lost loved ones due to the pandemic were being "oppressed" by authorities, through not being allowed to mourn. In her last video before her arrest, she criticised the lockdown on Wuhan for being unduly harsh, saying that the government had managed the city with "intimidation and threats", and that this was "truly the tragedy of this country."
Citizen journalists have been a source of unfiltered information about the pandemic in China. However, there are very few due to lack of accreditation for them.
Arrest, May to June 2020
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Chinese human rights group recorded that Zhang went missing on 14 May 2020, the day after she had last streamed a live broadcast from near Hankou railway station. Later, it was revealed she was detained by police at a hotel near the railway station where she was staying, and transported back to Shanghai. In the days prior to losing contact with her friends, she had told them that she was being followed. She was imprisoned without charge until November. Zhang is one of several citizen journalists, including Li Zehua, Chen Qiushi, and Fang Bin who went missing at the same time. On 19 June 2020, Zhang was formally arrested on the orders of the Pudong state prosecutor. She was held in the Pudong Detention Center.
According to Amnesty International, Zhang was tortured for three months before sentencing, which involved being kept shackled and in handcuffs 24 hours a day for the entire time and being force-fed; Zhan had been on hunger strike since June 2020 and was since force-fed through a feeding tube. Her hands were tied to prevent her from removing it. Her mother described it as a "partial hunger strike" in which Zhang ate fruit and cookies, but not meat, rice, or vegetables. One of her lawyers said that she had begun taking some food after her health had started to decline. Her lawyer, Ren Quanniu, said that Zhang had told him on previous occasions that her hunger strike was to protest against the curtailment of freedom of speech in China, rather than for being released.
In December 2020, her lawyer, Ren Quanniu, described her as very weak. She appeared in court in December 2020 in a wheelchair. Another of her lawyers, Zhang Keke, said: "In addition to headache, dizziness, and stomach pain, there was also pain in her mouth and throat. She said this may be inflammation due to the insertion of the nasogastric tube." Her lawyer had stated in late 2020 that she may not survive.
Trial, 28 December 2020
Zhang was charged with picking quarrels and provoking trouble, a charge the Chinese government often uses to imprison opponents, and was sentenced to four years in prison. The crime is defined as undermining public order by creating a disturbance in a public place. The indictment sheet accused Zhang of talking to foreign media such as Radio Free Asia and The Epoch Times, and spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan.
Zhang was accused of fabricating two items in her reporting from Wuhan; that residents were forced to pay a fee to get COVID-19 tests, and that residents confined to their homes had been sent rotten vegetables by neighbourhood committees. Zhang maintains these are true.
The trial before a Shanghai court took place on 28 December 2020. Supporters, foreign journalists, and a British diplomat were blocked from entering the courtroom. The trial lasted less than three hours in total. Foreign media saw the timing of the trial between Christmas and New Year as aiming to minimise attention in Western countries, a tactic which China had used previously in the trial of other dissidents. Zhang was sentenced to four years imprisonment, making her the first citizen journalist to be sentenced for reporting the pandemic in China. She was represented by several lawyers, including Ren Quanniu and Zhang Keke. She declined to appeal her conviction, telling her lawyers that she saw the legal process used to imprison her as legally invalid.
Imprisonment, December 2020 to present
Zhang was hospitalized in Shanghai on 31 July 2021, after staging a long-running hunger strike, according to a message from her mother on Chinese social media. Her mother also wrote that Zhang was weighing less than 40 kilograms, half her body weight from before her detention. On 2 August 2021, after notification from and on request of authorities, her parents and brother went to Shanghai to visit Zhang in prison but were only given permission to speak with her over the phone. Zhang returned to prison on 11 August 2021. Subsequently, her health appeared to deteriorate further according to her mother, who told Radio Free Asia that her daughter, with whom she had spoken in a video call on 28 October, could not walk unassisted and was drooping her head. In late 2021, Zhang's family made personal visits to her. Her mother said that the condition of her daughter in late November was still the same as before, in spite of her having been admitted again to hospital at the end of October. The family said that the hospital had withheld the clinical report from them.
In February 2022, Zhang's mother revealed that her daughter's health had improved and Zhang had halted her hunger strike. Zhang was able to walk on her own and her stomachache has ended due to her food intake.
On 29 December 2020, Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State released a statement that "The United States strongly condemns the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sham prosecution and conviction of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan on December 28". On 8 November 2021, Department of State spokesman Ned Price said that the United States was "deeply concerned about the deteriorating health" of Zhang, that it had "serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her mistreatment during it", and called for her "immediate and unconditional release".
In December 2020, the European Union (EU) called for her to be released immediately. They also called for the release of human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, and several others detained and convicted human rights defenders and reporters in China. An EU foreign policy spokesman, Peter Stano, stated, "according to credible sources, Ms Zhang has been subject to torture and ill-treatment during her detention and her health condition has seriously deteriorated". Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, called on 24 November for the unconditional release of Zhang and noted at the same time that previous calls by the European Union had not received a response.
In December 2020, the Embassy of the United Kingdom, Beijing, said her case "raises serious concerns about media freedom in China" and that she was one of at least 47 journalists currently (December 2020) in detention in China for their coronavirus reporting; the statement called on the Chinese government for their release.
in a tweet on 28 December 2020, the United Nations human rights office said, that it had "raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020", and that it would continue to call for her release. On 19 November 2021, the human rights office urged for "Zhang's immediate and unconditional release, at the very least, on humanitarian grounds", and for her to be able to access "urgent life-saving" medical care.
on 17 September 2021, a coalition of 45 non-governmental organizations, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), called Chinese leader Xi Jinping to be exonerated and for Zhang s "immediate" release due to her health condition. RSF's East Asia bureau head Cédric Alviani said that Zhang "should never have been arrested, let alone subjected to a harsh prison sentence".
In November 2021, RSF announced Zhang as a nominee of the organization's press freedom award for courage, in recognition of her journalistic work. She was announced as the recipient a week later.
An indictment dated 15 September 2020, which became known on 13 November 2020, said that through accepting interviews from foreign media outlets such as Radio Free Asia and the Epoch Times, Zhang had "maliciously hype[d] up the situation in Wuhan, reaching a wide audience and causing a negative impact."
On 20 November 2021, the diplomatic mission of China at the United Nations in Geneva responded with strong criticism to the statement by the UN human rights office from a day earlier. Mission spokesman Zhang Yuyin said that the office had turned "a blind eye to information provided by China through normal channels," had "irresponsible" and "erroneous" comments, and that the success of China in combating the COVID-19 pandemic was "not something that anyone can distort or write off".
The Chinese Embassy in Britain said in a statement on the case of Zhang that the right of prison inmates to receive medical attention was "fully guaranteed", and that "anyone who breaches the law shall be sanctioned accordingly."
- 网易 (28 December 2020). "张展案开庭并当庭宣判". www.163.com. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "UN urges China to free seriously ill journalist jailed over Wuhan Covid reporting". The Guardian. Agence France-Presse. 2021-11-20. Retrieved 2021-12-26.
- "China: One year after the Covid-19 outbreak, seven journalists still detained for reporting on the issue". Reporters Without Borders. 8 February 2021. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
- Zhai, Keith (1 October 2021). "Chinese citizen journalist who documented Covid-19 in Wuhan resurfaces after 600 Days". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
- Chang Chien, Amy; Ramzy, Austin (25 August 2021). "Chinese Citizen who documented Wuhan outbreak falls ill in prison hunger strike". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
- Lu, Xi (2 November 2021). "Jailed Wuhan COVID-19 journalist 'close to death' in Chinese prison". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
- "Detained, missing, close to death: the toll of reporting on Covid in China". the Guardian. 2022-01-04. Retrieved 2022-01-04.
- Churchill, Owen (9 November 2021). "US urges Beijing to release jailed citizen journalist Zhang Zhan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
- AFP (20 November 2021). "UN urges China to free seriously ill journalist jailed over Wuhan Covid reporting". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
- "Wuhan Citizen Journalist Formally Arrested, Held in Shanghai Detention Center". Radio Free Asia. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "美国务院对中国公民记者张展处境深表关切 张展狱中获无国界记者新闻自由奖提名" (in Simplified Chinese). Voice of America. 8 November 2021. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
- Lau, Mimi (6 November 2021). "Family seeks medical parole for jailed Chinese Covid-19 citizen journalist Zhang Zhan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
- Guo, Rui (18 May 2020). "Chinese citizen journalist detained after live-streaming on coronavirus from Wuhan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
- Qiao, Long; Wong, Lok (22 June 2020). "Wuhan Citizen Journalist Formally Arrested, Held in Shanghai Detention Center". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
- "雨傘運動上海發酵 維權律師張展舉傘撐民主被囚65日" (in Traditional Chinese). Radio Free Asia. 26 November 2019. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
- "China jails citizen-journalist for four years over Wuhan virus reporting". Reuters. 28 December 2020. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Gan, Nectar; Griffiths, James (28 December 2020). "Chinese journalist who documented Wuhan coronavirus outbreak jailed for 4 years". CNN. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "张展在狱中继续绝食抗议" [Zhang Zhan continues her hunger strike in prison]. Deutsche Welle (in Simplified Chinese). Deutsche Welle. 5 March 2021. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
- Wu, Huizhong (17 August 2021). "Imprisoned Chinese citizen journalist not well, lawyer says". Associated Press. Retrieved 17 August 2021.
- Simmons, Keir; Jett, Jennifer; Perrette, Amy; Kuhr, Elizabeth (18 December 2021). "A reporter risked her life to show the world Covid in Wuhan. Now she may not survive jail". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
- "Zhang Zhan: China jails citizen journalist for Wuhan reports". BBC News. 28 December 2020. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Chang, Chris (24 June 2020). "Chinese journalist prosecuted for reporting on Wuhan outbreak". Taiwan News. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Covid-19 journalist tortured for exposing truth". www.amnesty.org.uk. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "China sentences lawyer who reported on outbreak to 4 years". AP NEWS. 28 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Wang, Vivian (26 December 2020). "She Chronicled China's Crisis. Now She Is Accused of Spreading Lies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Editorial Board. "Opinion | What is China trying to hide about the coronavirus?". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Citizen journalist detained over Wuhan reporting 'restrained and fed by tube'". The Guardian. 10 December 2020. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Inocencio, Ramy; Qi, Grace (11 December 2020). "Chinese citizen journalist detained for reporting on Wuhan coronavirus outbreak "may not survive"". CBS News. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
Zhang is restrained 24 hours a day with a belt around her waist and both hands tied to prevent her from pulling out a feeding tube
- Chen, Laurie. "Chinese citizen journalist jailed for four years for Wuhan virus reporting". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- Xiao Shan (小山) (4 August 2021). "张展狱中绝食送医" [Zhang Zhan on hunger strike in prison, admitted to hospital]. RFI (in Simplified Chinese). Retrieved 4 August 2021.
- Davidson, Helen (16 November 2020). "Citizen journalist facing jail in China for Wuhan Covid reporting". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Report submitted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention — Addendum: Visit to the People's Republic of China, 1997" (PDF). United Nations. 22 December 1997. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
- "Chinese Lawyer-Turned-Citizen Journalist Gets Four Years For Wuhan Posts". Radio Free Asia. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Qi, Grace (28 December 2020). "Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan sentenced for reporting early on COVID in Wuhan". CBS News. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020.
- "Chinese court jails citizen journalist Zhang Zhan for Wuhan reports". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "Virus Outbreak: Chinese citizen-journalist jailed for virus reporting - Taipei Times". www.taipeitimes.com. 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- AFP (28 December 2020). "Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan jailed for 4 years over Wuhan Covid-19 reporting". Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
- Wang, Vivian (28 December 2020). "Chinese Citizen Journalist Sentenced to 4 Years for Covid Reporting". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Guo, Rui (28 December 2020). "China jails citizen journalist for four years over Wuhan coronavirus reports". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Lau, Mimi; Guo, Rui (14 January 2021). "No appeal for China's jailed coronavirus citizen journalist Zhang Zhan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
- Chan, Emily (23 August 2021). "Blogger on Hunger Strike Loses Half Her Bodyweight in Chinese Prison". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
- "Fears for health of Chinese citizen journalist on hunger strike after being jailed for COVID-19 coverage". ABC News. 17 August 2021. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
- Gao, Feng (30 December 2021). "Calls grow for citizen journalist's release, one year into her four-year jail term". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
- "Imprisoned Chinese Christian Activist Zhang Zhan in Better Shape". The Paradise. 2022-02-15. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
- Fromer, Jacob (29 December 2020). "US and EU demand China release Zhang Zhan, who covered Wuhan outbreak". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "On the Silencing and Prosecution of PRC Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan". United States Department of State. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
- "EU demands China release citizen-journalist Zhang Zhan who reported on Covid-19". France 24. 29 December 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
- "EU criticises China for jailing citizen-journalist who reported on COVID". Reuters. 29 December 2020. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Oxner, Reese (29 December 2020). "U.S. And EU Condemn Jailing Of Lawyer Who Reported On Coronavirus In Wuhan". NPR.org. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
- "欧盟今再敦促中国释放张展" (in Simplified Chinese). RFI. 23 November 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
- Oxner, Reese (29 December 2020). "U.S. And EU Condemn Jailing Of Lawyer Who Reported On Coronavirus In Wuhan". NPR. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- Nebehay, Stephanie (28 December 2020). "UN rights office decries jail term for citizen-journalist in China's Wuhan". Reuters. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
- "Comment by UN Human Rights Office Spokesperson Marta Hurtado on China". OHCHR. 19 November 2021. Retrieved 20 November 2021.
- Yang, Sophia (21 September 2021). "45 NGOs urge China to immediately free journalist who reported on COVID". Taiwan News. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
- Davidson, Helen (8 November 2021). "Jailed Wuhan journalist Zhang Zhan nominated for RSF press freedom award". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
- Latschan, Thomas (18 November 2021). "Winners of the 2021 Press Freedom Awards unveiled". Deutsche Welle. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
- Li, Jane (19 November 2020). "China has begun its first prosecution of a coronavirus citizen journalist". Quartz. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
- "China slams 'irresponsible' UN comments on jailed journalist". Al Jazeera News. 20 November 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
- Cachila, Julio (28 December 2020). "Zhang Zhan: Christian Citizen Journalist Sentenced To Four Years In Prison For Wuhan Virus Reports". Christianity Daily. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- "China: Fears for health of Christian activist on hunger strike in detention". www.csw.org.uk. Archived from the original on 29 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.