Alert Bangladesh: Prominent defenders receive two-year prison sentences
Urgent Interventions

China: Upcoming trial and ongoing arbitrary detention of freelance journalist Zhang Zhan


CHN 004 / 1220 / OBS 139
Arbitrary detention /Judicial harassment /
Deterioration of health condition

December 21, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in China.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) about the upcoming trial 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 journalist who is greatly outspoken on the situation of human rights in China.

On December 28, 2020, Zhang Zhan will face trial before a Shanghai court. Ms. Zhang 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 under 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) for her coverage of the pandemic. She has remained detained at the Pudong New District Detention Center, Shanghai, ever since. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.

In June 2020, Ms. Zhang staged a hunger strike to protest her detention. In response, the authorities have restrained Ms. Zhang and are force-feeding her via a nasal tube. Ms. Zhang’s health has seriously deteriorated as a result of her ongoing hunger strike, causing great concern. She suffers from dizziness, headaches, and pain in her stomach and mouth as a result of the feeding tube.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Zhang Zhan, as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities. 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. 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, December 21, 2020

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
Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts