Fears are growing over the health of jailed citizen journalist Zhang Zhan after she was sent for medical treatment at the end of July for malnutrition following several months of hunger strike in a Shanghai prison.
Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, 37, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment by Shanghai's Pudong District People's Court on Dec. 28, 2020.
One of a group of citizen journalists detained, jailed or "disappeared" after they went to the central city of Wuhan to cover the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhang was sent to see the doctor by prison authorities on July 31 amid rising concerns for her health on hunger strike.
Her mother said via social media that her daughter currently weighs just 40 kilograms, and is seriously malnourished with swollen legs and feet.
Zhang has been eating very small amounts of food in protest at her imprisonment in order to avoid forced intubation and feeding.
She pleaded not guilty at her trial, where she appeared in court in a wheelchair.
Hunan-based rights activist Tan Binglin, who staged a lone street protest in support of Zhang in Buyunqiao township near Hunan's Hengyang city on Aug. 4, said he hoped Zhang would end her hunger strike.
"I think her life is the most important thing," Tan told RFA. "I want people to fight, but I don't want people to martyr themselves."
"That applies to myself and to Zhang Zhan; I don't want her to suffer serious damage to her health," he said.
"We have known all along that she has probably been on hunger strike, but the authorities have used various methods to prevent her family from seeing her or getting news of her," Wang Jianhong, who directs the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China, told RFA.
"This is the first confirmation we have had that she is still on hunger strike many months later," Wang said.
Wang said Zhang's approach was to eat very little food to avoid forced feeding by tube.
"Even so, she is still fighting for her life," she said.
Appeal or negotiations
Human rights lawyer Li Dawei said Zhang should lodge an appeal against her sentence so as to give a lawyer to opportunity to negotiate an end to the hunger strike.
"Her appeal representative could perhaps meet with Zhang Zhan and work with her to end the hunger strike or other forms of resistance, and maybe ease the situation and negotiate an early release," Li said.
But he said the likelihood of the case being overturned on appeal was very slim in the current Chinese judicial system.
Kiri Kankhwende, a spokesperson for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has been following Zhang Zhan's case, said the group is very worried.
She said the ultimate solution would be to release Zhang because she shouldn't have been put in prison in the first place.
But she called for her release on medical parole as a matter of urgency.
Zhang was found guilty by the Pudong court of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used to target critics of the government.
She was accused of "posting false information" on overseas social media platforms Twitter and YouTube, and for giving interviews to foreign news organizations.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Wang Yun.