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Chinese Citizen Journalist Jailed Over COVID Reporting Is Near Death amid Hunger Strike: Report

Chinese Citizen Journalist Jailed Over COVID Reporting Is Near Death amid Hunger Strike: Report

A Chinese journalist who was jailed last year after reporting on the severity of Wuhan’s COVID-19 outbreak and the government’s handling of the public health crisis is reportedly near death amid a hunger strike.

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was found guilty in December of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” her lawyers said, according to CNN, which noted this charge in China is often used to punish anti-government activists. She was sentenced to four years in prison after being accused of spreading misinformation.

In a series of videos posted to social media over three months in 2020, Zhan, 38, showed how the pandemic had affected everyday life in Wuhan, from hospitals at full-capacity to empty stores shuttered due to lockdowns. As The New York Times reported last year, Zhan’s videos were critical of the Chinese government’s response to the virus and challenged the notion that it had everything under control.

Agence France-Presse news service reports that Zhan’s family said late last month she is severely underweight and “may not live for much longer.” She began a hunger strike in June 2020, according to Amnesty International, to the point she had to attend her December trial in a wheelchair. She was reportedly force-fed through feeding tubes as well, and she was hospitalized in July 2021 for malnutrition.

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“Zhang Zhan, who should never have been jailed in the first place, now appears to be at grave risk of dying in prison. The Chinese authorities must release her immediately so that she can end her hunger strike and receive the appropriate medical treatment she desperately needs,” said Gwen Lee, China campaigner at Amnesty International, in a press release. “The Chinese government’s prosecution of Zhang Zhan, simply because she tried to uncover what was happening in Wuhan amid huge government secrecy about the pandemic, is a shameful attack on human rights.”

In her final message before being arrested in May 2020, Zhan said: “The government’s way of managing this city has just been intimidation and threats. This is truly the tragedy of this country.”