Detained citizen journalist over Wuhan reporting ‘in restraints and fed by tube’


A Chinese citizen journalist who was arrested after reporting about the coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan is kept in restraints 24 hours a day and force-fed by tube after going on a hunger strike in detention, her lawyer has claimed.

Zhang Zhan, who criticised Wuhan government’s handling of the crisis, is facing up to five years in prison after being detained by police in May on suspicion of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, a broad-brush charge often used against activists.

She was formally indicted on charges of spreading false information last month.

The 37-year-old former lawyer, who was hailed for ‘reporting the truth’ of the epidemic, had to wear restraint belts day and night and have feeding tubes forcibly inserted into her mouth and nose, her lawyer said.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Zhang’s lawyer, Zhang Keke, said he visited his client on Tuesday afternoon, and found her unwell and exhausted.

“She was wearing thick pyjamas with a girdle around the waist, her left hand pinned in front and right hand pinned behind,” he wrote. “She said she had a stomach tube inserted recently and because she wanted to pull it out, she was restrained.”

Zhang Keke said she was in “constant torment” from 24 hours a day of restraints, and needed assistance to go to the bathroom.

“In addition to headache, dizziness and stomach pain, there was also pain in her mouth and throat. She said this may be inflammation due to the insertion of a gastric tube.”

Zhang Keke said he told Zhang her family, friends, and lawyers had urged her to stop her hunger strike, but she refused.

He said Zhang told him she had expected a court hearing in December, and now it appeared there were no plans to hold one, she didn’t know if she would survive.

Zhang was previously detained on similar accusations by Chinese authorities in 2018, and again in 2019 for voicing support for Hong Kong activists. She denies the charge of falsifying information, telling her lawyer that all the information was gathered first-hand through interviews with Wuhan residents.

Zhang is among several Chinese journalists to have been arrested this year after travelling to Wuhan to report on the virus outbreak and response.

Chen Qiushi, a former lawyer turned journalist, was detained in January. Li Zehua, who travelled to Wuhan to report after Chen’s disappearance, went missing in early February but was released in April. Wuhan resident Fang Bin who reportedly posted footage of overwhelmed hospitals, and filmed police knocking on his door went missing at the same time but has not been seen since.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on activists, dissidents, and human rights works appears to have worsened this year.

On Thursday Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said this week alone authorities had detained lawyer Tang Jitian, and placed under apparent house arrest lawyers XieYanyi, Li Heping and his family, Wang Quanzhang and his family, and the wife of lawyer Yu Wenshang.

Posting videos of some of the police action at the lawyers’ homes, CHRD accused authorities of turning “Human Rights Day into a field day for attacking human rights defenders”. (Source: The Guardian)