The United Nations has urged China to release a citizen journalist jailed for her coverage of the country’s response to Covid-19 and who her family says is near death after a hunger strike.
The UN rights office is alarmed at reports that the health of 38-year-old Zhang Zhan is deteriorating rapidly and his life is seriously threatened by the hunger strike.
“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, “said UN spokesperson Marta Hurtado.
Zhang, a former lawyer, traveled to Wuhan in February 2020 to report on the chaos at the epicenter of the pandemic, questioning authorities’ handling of the outbreak in her smartphone videos.
She was arrested in May 2020 and sentenced in December to four years in prison for “choosing quarrels and causing unrest” – a charge commonly used to quell dissent.
She has been on several hunger strikes to protest her conviction, conviction and imprisonment, and her family recently warned that she had become severely thin and “may not live long.”
Hurtado said the UN rights office has repeatedly raised concerns about Zhang’s case with Chinese authorities since his arrest last year.
He had asked “for clarification of the criminal charges brought against her as a result of what appears to have been her legitimate journalistic activities,” Hurtado said.
Zhang is one of a group of four citizen journalists – along with Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua – detained after reporting from Wuhan.
Hurtado stressed that “the free flow of relevant information is of particular importance in the early stages of crisis situations such as public health emergencies”.
“We reiterate our call to all States to ensure that all emergency measures, including with regard to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic are strictly necessary, proportionate to their legitimate objective and non-discriminatory. “