CHN 004 / 1220 / OBS 139.3
Deterioration of health condition /
Arbitrary detention /
Torture and ill-treatment
November 4, 2021
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in China.
The Observatory has been informed by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) about the imminent risks of death of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan, who has been detained since May 2020 as a reprisal for her coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic from February 2020 until her arrest. Ms. Zhang is a former lawyer whose licence was suspended in retaliation for her activism and a well-known and outspoken journalist on the situation of human rights in China.
According to the relatives of Zhang Zhan, the journalists’ life is at imminent risk of death as a result of the partial hunger strike she started in June 2020 to protest her arbitrary detention and later her sentencing. The mother of Zhang Zhan was allowed to have a videocall with her daughter on October 28, 2021, after which she reported that the journalist weights less than 40 kg, is unable to walk unassisted and cannot raise her head without assistance. Her health is extremely poor, as she suffers from severe malnutrition, a gastric ulcer and swollen legs and feet. During her detention, she has been restrained and force-fed via a nasal tube.
The relatives of Zhang Zhan have been consistently denied their right to visit the journalist and only been allowed to communicate with her by video calls on two occasions, on October 28 and February 2021, and by a phone call on August 2021. Moreover, Zhang Zhan’s mother requested the Chinese security police the permission to visit the journalist in prison to persuade her to abandon the hunger strike. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, she had not received a reply.
The Observatory recalls that Zhang Zhan was hospitalised in a prison hospital between July 21 and August 11, 2021 due to her deteriorating health conditions. During her hospitalisation, she was tied to a hospital bed and force-fed by prison authorities. On August 11, she was transferred back to the Shanghai Women’s Prison, where she remained detained at the time of this Urgent Appeal.
The Observatory further recalls that on May 14, 2020, Zhang Zhan went missing in Wuhan, Hubei Province, one day after releasing a video that criticised the government’s measures to contain the virus, claiming the authorities were being negligent. Zhang Zhan had travelled to Wuhan from her home in Shanghai in early February 2020 to report from the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. She reported numerous stories, including the detention of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability, via her WeChat, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.
After seven months of pre-trial detention, on December 28, 2020, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Court found Zhang Zhan guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law) and sentenced her to four years in prison. The court rejected the application filed by Zhang Zhan’s lawyers to request bail, live streaming of the trial, and a time extension of the proceedings. Their requests to have the defense witnesses appear in court to present exculpatory evidence was also rejected by the court. Zhang Zhan attended her trial in a wheelchair because of her poor health.
The Observatory is deeply concerned about the health conditions and risk of death of Zhang Zhan and urges the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and grant her immediate access to adequate and comprehensive medical treatment.
Please write to the Chinese authorities to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Zhang Zhan as well as that of all other human rights defenders in China;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Zhang Zhan as her detention is arbitrary since it only seems to aim at punishing her for her human rights activities and is only putting her life at risk;
iii. Guarantee Zhang Zhan’s access to her family members and to a lawyer of her own or her family’s choosing;
iv. Repeal the guilty verdict and put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Zhang Zhan and all other human rights defenders in the country, so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance and fear of reprisals.
- Mr. Li Keqiang, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Guo Shengkun, Minister of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- H.E. Mr. Zhaoxu Ma, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail: email@example.com
- H.E. Mr. QU XING, Ambassador, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Brussels, Belgium, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of China in your respective countries.
Geneva-Paris, November 4, 2021
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
- E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
- Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39
- Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18
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China: Upcoming trial and ongoing arbitrary detention of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan