The first known person to be held accountable for documenting China’s coronavirus crisis fell seriously ill in a Shanghai prison and could die if left untreated, her family and friends say – the discovery has once again highlighted China’s efforts to whitewash his early life. handling him. pandemics.
On Monday, the US State Department called on the Chinese government to immediately release the woman Zhang Zhan. Human Rights Watch called for the same.
“We have repeatedly expressed our grave concern about the arbitrary nature of her detention and the ill-treatment of her during his detention,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
China is actively working to silence all critics of its early response to the coronavirus when it downplays the spread of the virus and punishes whistleblowers. It promotes a triumphant nationalist narrative of China’s supremacy with an emphasis on continued success in containing new cases.
Zhang, 38, was one of several self-styled citizen journalists who traveled to Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, early last year. As the chaos of the initial outbreak, accompanied by strict state control over information, made it difficult for outsiders to know what was happening in Wuhan, these citizen journalists posted videos and blog posts on social media to share what they saw.
Ms. Zhang visited the hospital where she rented the corridor beds and the crematorium. She questioned street residents about their livelihood concerns and asked how they felt about the government’s response.
In May 2020, after months of mailings, she disappeared. Later, her family was informed that she had been arrested and charged with “procrastinating fights and provoking trouble,” an umbrella term that the Chinese authorities use to silence critics. In December, she was sentenced to four years in prison.
According to her lawyers, Ms. Zhang went on a hunger strike shortly after her arrest. One of her lawyers, Zhang Keke, said last year that her hands were tied during one of his visits; she told him that this was to prevent her from pulling out the force-feeding tube.
Friends and human rights activists said that Ms. Zhang continued to refuse food after the trial. In the summer, she was briefly hospitalized. Her health continued to deteriorate: Ms. Zhang, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and once weighed about 165 pounds, appears to have weighed less than 90 pounds in October. Twitter post late last month, her brother Zhang Ju.
“I think she probably won’t be able to live much longer,” he wrote, adding in a separate post that his mother spoke to Ms. Zhang recently.
Mr. Zhang was not contacted for comment, but Ms. Zhang’s friends confirmed that the Twitter account belonged to him.
Mr. Zhang general a photograph of his sister, aged 6 or 7, dancing on the bed at home. “I have never met anyone cleaner than her,” he said, “and I have never met anyone more determined.”