China Arrested Citizen Journalist in May 2020 | Photo: Pixabay

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, arrested last year for reporting the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, is severely weakened following the partial hunger strike she began to protest her detention.

The 37-year-old, 1.55-meter-tall, who once weighed 74 kilograms, now weighs less than 40, according to the New York Times. At the end of July, she had to be hospitalized, but on August 11, she returned to prison.

Zhang’s lawyer said she was physically very weak and suffered from stomach aches, dizziness and weakness when walking, according to NGO Amnesty International. It was also reported to the human rights organization that the journalist was forced to wear handcuffs and her hands were imprisoned around the clock for more than three months as punishment for her hunger strike. .

In prison, the journalist refuses to eat meat, rice and vegetables. According to her mother, Shao Wenxia, ​​she only eats fruits and cookies.

Zhang, 37, is from Shanghai but traveled to Wuhan in February 2020 to cover the Covid-19 outbreak. Independently, she recounted the experiences of city dwellers with the new and unknown virus, later dubbed Sars-CoV-2, and with the lockdown imposed by local authorities. She also recorded, via social media, the detention of other independent journalists trying to cover the Covid-19 epidemic in Wuhan.

The journalist was arrested in May last year and, in December, was sentenced to four years in prison for “causing trouble,” a charge widely used in China to prosecute dissidents.

At the time of his trial, Zhang was already in poor health, having appeared before the judge in a wheelchair. One of the few things she said at the time, according to her lawyer, was that “citizens’ speech should not be censored”.

Others who posted images of the plight of hospitals at the start of the pandemic in China were also arrested or harassed by Chinese authorities, such as journalist Chen Qiushi and Wuhan resident Fang Bin.

“The crime of ‘appeasing unrest’ under Article 293 of China’s criminal law is a loosely-worded offense that has been widely used to target activists and human rights defenders,” Amnesty International said in a letter calling for Zhang’s release. “Although the crime was originally applied to acts that disturbed order in public places, the scope has been broadened since 2013 to also include space in line.”

Zheng’s mother asked her daughter to stop the hunger strike to regain health, but despite the risk of death, the reporter appears to remain determined to continue her protest. In 2021, Zhang was only able to speak to his mother by phone twice.