Activists Without Borders (AWB) is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, who has been detained since 2020 for her coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan. Zhang’s recent hospitalization and ongoing hunger strike have raised serious concerns about her well-being, and we urgently call for her release.

Zhang Zhan, a courageous journalist, was sentenced to four years in prison by the Shanghai Pudong New Area Court in December 2020 on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” She had been actively reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, sharing vital information through more than 100 videos on platforms such as YouTube, WeChat, and Twitter. Her dedication to uncovering the truth made her a symbol of journalistic integrity in a time of crisis.

Tragically, Zhang Zhan’s commitment to her work has come at a significant personal cost. When her mother visited her in prison in July 2023, it was evident that Zhang’s health had deteriorated significantly. She weighed a mere 37 kilograms, despite being 1.7 meters tall – half of her weight before her detention. Zhang also suffers from severe malnutrition, gastrointestinal disease, and a dangerously low white blood cell count.

This is not the first time Zhang Zhan has endured ill-treatment. During the initial months of her detention from May 2020 to January 2021, she went on a full hunger strike. Prison authorities responded by force-feeding her through a nasal tube and, at times, shackling her hands 24 hours a day. Her continued detention and treatment raise serious concerns about her survival.

Regrettably, Zhang Zhan is not alone in facing such dire circumstances. At least 15 other defenders of press freedom in China are also at risk of dying in detention, including Australian political commentator Yang Hengjun, detained on charges of ‘espionage’ since January 2019. Tragically, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and political commentator Yang Tongyan both passed away in 2017 due to untreated cancers during their detention. Similarly, Kunchok Jinpa, a prominent source of information about the autonomous Chinese region of Tibet for journalists, lost his life in 2021 as a result of mistreatment.

The situation of journalists and press freedom defenders in China has been a cause for concern for years. Under the leadership of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, there has been an ongoing crackdown on journalism, as highlighted in RSF’s report, “The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China,” published in December 2021. This report details China’s extensive efforts to control information and media, both within and beyond its borders.

China currently holds the unenviable distinction of being the world’s largest captor of journalists and press freedom defenders, with at least 115 individuals detained.

Activists Without Borders stands in solidarity with Zhang Zhan and all journalists and defenders of press freedom who are facing grave risks. We urge the international community to join us in calling for her immediate release and to demand justice for all those who have been unjustly detained for their commitment to truth and transparency.

In a world where borders should never confine the pursuit of truth, we remain steadfast in our mission to support those who dare to speak out, regardless of the borders that may try to silence them. Together, we can make a difference and ensure that no activist or journalist is left to suffer in silence.

For updates on this urgent matter and ways to support our cause, please stay connected with Activists Without Borders.