Imprisoned Wuhan Journalist Zhang Zhan Nominated for RSF Press Freedom Prize | freedom of the press
Detained Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan has been nominated for the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Award for her courage, acknowledging her reporting work in Wuhan in the early weeks of the pandemic, amid growing appeals for his release.
The former lawyer-turned-citizen journalist was found guilty in December of “causing quarrels and causing trouble”, a ubiquitous catch-all charge frequently used against journalists, lawyers and dissidents in China.
Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison. She had already been in detention since her initial arrest in May 2020 and started a hunger strike. Last week, her family said the 38-year-old was “close to death”, amplifying global calls for her immediate release.
In his appointment on Monday, RSF said Zhang had resisted “constant threats from the authorities” to broadcast his video reports live on the streets and hospitals of Wuhan and show the harassment suffered by the families of Covid patients. -19.
“Widely shared on social media, his report was one of the main sources of independent information on the health situation in Wuhan at the time,” he said.
Zhang, who was among a number of journalists arrested in Wuhan but was the first to be convicted, was charged with sending “false information via text, video and other media through internet media such as WeChat, Twitter and YouTube,” and “maliciously speculating” in interviews with the foreign press, according to the indictment.
RSF’s nomination cites claims made by Zhang’s lawyer in the days following her sentencing that she had been chained in her cell and force-fed.
“There are currently great fears that she may be subjected to further acts of torture and ill-treatment,” RSF said.
Zhang is being held in Shanghai. Last week, her brother said on Twitter that she was severely underweight and “may not live long”. He said Zhang, who is about 5 feet 10 inches (177 cm) tall, weighed just 6 stone 4 pounds (40 kg).
RSF East Asia bureau chief Cedric Alviani said Zhang was a symbol of journalism in China under growing government oppression and regulatory restrictions.
“Zhang Zhan represents the hope of the Chinese people that some will continue to do journalism,” Alviani said. “Let them go where something is happening and keep reporting. The Chinese people, like everyone on Earth, crave information about what is happening around them.
RSF was one of a number of NGOs calling for Zhang’s immediate release. Alviani said the conviction should be dropped but at the very least, given the immediate health concerns, she should be released on humanitarian grounds.
“The Chinese regime should never have tried her,” he said. “She should be celebrated as a hero – she risked her life by going to Wuhan at a time when no one really knew what was going on.”
Zhang was nominated for the Courage Award, one of three press freedom awards, alongside Kay Zon Nway, a Burmese journalist who was jailed for 124 days after being arrested in February while broadcasting a live anti-coup demonstration; Patricia Devlin, who faced personal threats while reporting on organized crime and paramilitary activities in Northern Ireland; and the Nicaraguan weekly Confidencial, which has been repeatedly raided and its journalists targeted by authorities under Daniel Ortega’s government.
“These men, women and media are fighting with courage and determination against the converging forces that undermine the independence of journalists,” said RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire. “The RSF awards are a tribute and above all a support to all those who embody the ideals of journalism.