Hunger Strike by Chinese Citizen Journalist Imprisoned for Reporting Virus

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Hunger Strike by Chinese Citizen Journalist Imprisoned for Reporting Virus
A screenshot of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan speaking in front of the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan city, China on May 13, 2020.

Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist, stands 6 feet tall but weighs less than 90 pounds due to a hunger strike he went on while in prison.

Zhang, a Shanghai native, was sentenced to four years in prison in December 2020 for reporting on China’s CCP virus outbreak. The COVID-19 disease is caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.

In a recent phone call, Zhang told her mother that she would not end her protest until the court cleared her name.

Zhang traveled to Wuhan, the early epicenter of the outbreak, in February 2020, when the virus first began spreading in China. She went to local hospitals and funeral homes to document and livestream the daily lives of the city’s residents.

Zhang questioned the official death toll while on the front lines of Wuhan’s outbreak after discovering incinerators running all night at a local funeral parlor. Because of the Chinese government’s history of underreporting infections and concealing information, determining the true scope of the current outbreak is difficult.

Zhang also shared a photo of an 80-year-old Wuhan resident receiving limited food supplies twice in 40 days on social media.

Her social media posts were widely shared, which landed her in hot water with the authorities.

In June 2020, she was arrested in Shanghai for “picking quarrels and causing trouble,” a vaguely defined charge commonly used against political dissidents. Her parents were not permitted to visit her in prison. Zhang was eventually imprisoned at the Shanghai Women’s Prison.

Zhang’s mother, surnamed Shao, spoke to her daughter for the first time in six months on August 2. Shao discovered that Zhang had been hospitalized since July 31 due to malnutrition caused by a hunger strike. Her lower body was severely swollen, according to the doctor. They are awaiting the results of medical tests.

The mother tried to persuade her daughter to eat normally, but Zhang refused, insisting on continuing her hunger strike to prove her innocence.

Zhang was on a hunger strike prior to her trial and appeared in court in a wheelchair on December 28, 2020.

During her detention, officials forced-fed Zhang through her nose with a feeding tube; the process was painful, according to Zhang’s lawyer.

Zhang’s reporting was hampered by the Chinese regime’s suppression of independent media coverage of the outbreak. Authorities once forced her to stay in a hotel after suspending her WeChat account.

In March 2020, she told The Epoch Times, “That was the most painful time for me.” Zhang is the first known citizen journalist to be sentenced for questioning the Chinese Communist Party’s official account of the outbreak.

Zhang was previously detained in 2019 for publicly expressing support for Hong Kong’s democratic movement.

On December 30, 2019, whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang was among the first to publicize information about a mysterious viral pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan—a day before local health officials held an emergency meeting and announced the outbreak. The police chastised him and seven other medical professionals for spreading “rumors” online. Li became infected with the virus and died on February 7, 2020.

Other citizen journalists covering the Wuhan outbreak, including Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, and Fang Bin, have been suppressed and detained by the Chinese regime.

On February 1, 2020, Fang recorded eight bodies being carried from a Wuhan hospital.

Despite being harassed and intimidated by authorities at the time, he said on social media, “As long as I’m here, I’ll be making videos.” Fang was arrested by local police a few days later and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

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