Urgent Interventions

China: Sentencing of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan


New information
CHN 004 / 1220 / OBS 139.1
Arbitrary detention /
Deterioration of health condition
January 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.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) about the sentencing and ongoing arbitrary detention of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan, as reprisals for her coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in February 2020. 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.

On December 28, 2020, in a two-hours trial, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Court found Ms. 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 for bail, live streaming of the trial, and a time extension of the proceedings, as well as their requests to have the defense witnesses appear in court to present exculpatory evidence.

Furthermore, Zhang Zhan attended her trial in a wheelchair because of her poor health due to the hunger strike she undertook in June 2020 to protest against her arbitrary detention, which has been ongoing since May 14, 2020. In response, the authorities have restrained Zhang Zhan and force-fed her via a nasal tube. She suffers from dizziness, headaches, and pain in her stomach and mouth as a result of the feeding tube and has lost a significant amount of weight.

Zhang Zhan initially went missing in Wuhan, Hubei Province, on May 14, 2020, one day after releasing a video criticising 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.

On May 15, she was placed in pre-trial detention by the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau, Pudong Sub-District, on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law).

The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing and ongoing arbitrary detention of Zhang Zhan, as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities and for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression.

The Observatory is further deeply concerned about her health deterioration as a result of her hunger strike, and calls for her immediate and unconditional release.

Actions requested:

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. Repeal the guilty verdict and release Zhang Zhan immediately and unconditionally as her detention is arbitrary since it only seems to aim at punishing her for her human rights activities;

iii. 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:
  • Mr. Guo Shengkun, Minister of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, Email:
  • H.E. Mr. Zhaoxu Ma, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail:
  • H.E. Mr. QU XING, Ambassador, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Brussels, Belgium, Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of China in your respective countries.


Geneva-Paris, January 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, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail:
  • Tel OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39
  • Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18
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