United Nations calls on China to release Chinese citizen journalist on hunger strike – Radio Free Asia

The UN on Friday called on the Chinese authorities to release the imprisoned and sick citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and allow her to receive life-saving medical treatment.

“We are very concerned about the rapid deterioration of the health of Zhang Zhan, whose life is said to be seriously threatened by a hunger strike she is currently conducting to protest her conviction in december 2020 for documenting the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Chinese city of Wuhan, “Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the office of the high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

“We call on the Chinese authorities to consider the immediate and unconditional release of Zhang, at least on humanitarian grounds, and to provide life-saving emergency medical care, respecting both his will and his dignity, ”Hurtado said.

Zhang recently won a Grand Press Freedom Award for his “notable contribution” to press freedom after reporting from the front line of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan city, in central China.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) honored Zhang – whose family says she is on the verge of death in prison after months of being denied food to protest her conviction – with her 2021 Prize for Courage for those who have “shown courage in the practice, defense or promotion of journalism,” the group said in an announcement on its website on Thursday.

“Despite constant threats, this lawyer turned journalist covered the Covid-19 epidemic in the city of Wuhan in February 2020, video reports broadcast live on social media that showed the city’s streets and hospitals, as well as the families of the sick, ”said RSF.

“His reporting in the heart of the initial epicenter of the pandemic was one of the main sources of independent information on the health situation in Wuhan at the time.”

Fears that Zhang might not survive the continued incarceration have sparked international calls for his release in recent days.

Zhang Zhan Concern Group founder Wang Jianhong in Geneva for meetings with representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other officials (L) and dissidents and Chinese rights activists show their support for Zhang (R). Credit: Wang Jianhong

Petition for release

Dozens of activists and rights groups, including the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) and Human Rights Watch, have signed a petition on Friday calling for his immediate release.

“As [her] his health deteriorates in prison, bringing him to the brink of death, the CFWIJ reiterates its request for release, “the petition indicates.

“Zhang (…) went on a prolonged hunger strike to protest his detention and is force-fed through a nasal tube,” he said, citing Zhang’s family as saying that his life is now in danger. danger.

Zhang, 38, was sentenced to four years in prison by the Pudong District People’s Court in Shanghai on December 28, 2020 and had eaten very little to avoid being force-fed by probe.

Her family say she cannot walk or hold her head up without assistance and that she currently weighs less than 40 kilograms, although she is 1.78 meters tall.

“For defying censorship and alerting the world to the reality of the emerging pandemic, the winner of the ‘courage’ category is now in prison and her state of health is extremely worrying,” said RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire. .

“The RSF award winners embody the finest journalistic qualities and also pay the highest price for this reason. They deserve not only our admiration but also our support,” he said.

The late Nobel Peace Prize winner and veteran dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017, received RSF’s Press Freedom Defender Award in 2004.

Zhang’s mother again applied for her daughter’s medical parole from prison on November 15, while the German newspaper Tagesschau reported on November 16 that the German government was pushing for her immediate release.

Family under pressure

London-based human rights activist Wang Jianhong, who heads the Zhang Zhan Concern Group, said Germany played a role in the release of Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu several years ago.

“We are very happy to hear that the German Foreign Ministry has called on the Chinese government to release Zhang Zhan unconditionally,” Wang told RFA. “Germany is a country which attaches great importance to freedom of the press and the protection of human rights and freedom of expression.

“We hope that the German government can do [further] requests to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Shanghai Municipal Government and Shanghai Prison Administration, ”she said. “Someone should be allowed to visit Zhang Zhan and give him a full medical examination on humanitarian grounds.

When Zhang’s mother applied for medical parole, Shanghai Women’s Prison staff picked them up and said they would be handed over to the prison administration within 48 hours, Wang told RFA.

“The chances that Zhang Zhan will be released from prison alive are decreasing day by day,” Wang said. “But it became clear that his family was under pressure after Zhang’s brother took to Twitter, and they stopped updating their Twitter account.”

Human rights lawyer Wang Yu said Zhang should be released on humanitarian grounds.

“Zhang Zhan should be released so that she can receive the best medical treatment,” Wang Yu said. “The most important thing right now is to save her life.”

An employee who answered the phone at the Shanghai Prison Service declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.

“I don’t know much about the issue of medical parole,” the employee said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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