GENEVA (22 November 2021) - UN human rights experts* today urged China to immediately release imprisoned citizen
journalist and woman human rights defender Zhang Zhan on humanitarian grounds, saying her health is deteriorating
rapidly and her life is in danger.
“Failure by the Chinese authorities to act swiftly and effectively could have fatal consequences for Zhang Zhan,” said
the experts. “We urge them to immediately grant her unconditional release and ensure she receives the necessary medical
treatment as soon as possible.”
Zhang Zhan has been detained in Pudong New District Detention Centre in Shanghai since May 2020, serving a four-year
sentence on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. She was arrested after she posted a video criticizing
the Government’s handling of the outbreak of COVID-19 and was accused of spreading false information and stirring up
negative sentiment about the epidemic in Wuhan.
She was convicted and sentenced in December 2020. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deemed Zhang Zhan’s detention
arbitrary in Opinion 25/2021
, issued in October 2021, and called for her immediate release.
“The arrest and detention of Zhang Zhan and a number of other citizen journalists for reporting on the outbreak of
COVID-19 in Wuhan, a matter of vital public interest, is deeply troubling,” the experts said.
“Not only does it represent an effort by the authorities to censor information in the public interest, but it is a
worrying retaliatory measure aimed at punishing those who attempt to circumvent this censorship to share information in
the interest of the public health.”
Since her arrest Zhang Zhan has gone on full and partial hunger strike in protest against her detention. She now
reportedly suffers from severe malnutrition, a gastric ulcer, advanced oedema of her lower limbs and is unable to walk
or raise her head without being assisted.
In late July 2021, she was admitted to a prison hospital for 11 days due to her health condition, during which time she
was reportedly tied to the hospital bed and subjected to forced feeding. Her health is fast deteriorating and there are
serious concerns for her life if she does not immediately receive adequate medical treatment.
“The Chinese authorities have a duty of care to Zhang Zhan as long as she is detained, and the failure to provide
adequate medical treatment flies in the face of this obligation,” said the experts.
“We have previously voiced deep concerns about the denial of medical care to individuals detained who subsequently died
tragically in custody or shortly after their release. We urge the authorities to release Zhang Zhan on humanitarian
grounds and prevent her from meeting this same devastating fate.”
The independent experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council, are in contact with the authorities on the matter.