UN rights experts urge China to immediately release sick journalist

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UN human rights experts on Monday urged China to immediately release detained citizen journalist Zhang Zhan on humanitarian grounds, saying her health is deteriorating rapidly.

“Failure by the Chinese authorities to act swiftly and effectively could have fatal consequences for Zhang Zhan,” said the Special Rapporteurs. “We urge them to immediately grant her unconditional release and ensure she receives the necessary medical treatment as soon as possible.”

According to the UN Human Rights Council appointed experts, the 38-year-old woman has been detained in Shanghai since May 2020.

She is serving a four-year sentence on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and was originally arrested after posting online a video that criticized the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, the experts explained.

They added that she was accused of spreading false information and stirring up negative sentiment about the epidemic in Wuhan.

“The arrest and detention of Zhang Zhan and a number of other citizen journalists for reporting on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, a matter of vital public interest, is deeply troubling,” they stressed.

“Not only does it represent an effort by the authorities to censor information in the public interest, but it is a worrying retaliatory measure aimed at punishing those who attempt to circumvent this censorship to share information in the interest of the public health.”

Since her arrest, Ms. Zhan’s hunger strike has resulted in severe malnutrition, a gastric ulcer and advanced oedema of her lower limbs, among other serious complications. And she is so weak that she can no longer raise her head unassisted.

In late July 2021, her poor health landed her in a prison hospital for 11 days, during which time she was reportedly tied to the hospital bed and subjected to force-feeding, the experts explained.

The experts described her condition as “fast deteriorating”, and expressed serious concerns for her life without immediate care.

“The Chinese authorities have a duty of care to Zhang Zhan as long as she is detained, and the failure to provide adequate medical treatment flies in the face of this obligation,” the experts said.

“We have previously voiced deep concerns about the denial of medical care to individuals detained who subsequently died tragically in custody or shortly after their release. We urge the authorities to release Zhang Zhan on humanitarian grounds and prevent her from meeting this same devastating fate.”

The independent experts noted that they are in contact with the authorities on the matter. (Source: UN News)

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