A citizen journalist detained for more than six months after reporting on the Wuhan COVID-19 outbreak has had a feeding tube forcibly inserted and her arms restrained to stop her from pulling it out, her lawyer has said.
Zhang Zhan (張展), a 37-year-old former lawyer, has been on a hunger strike at a detention facility near Shanghai.
Zhang was arrested in May and accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” an accusation frequently used against critics and rights advocates inside China, after reporting on social media and streaming accounts.
Last month, she was formally indicted on charges of spreading false information.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Zhang’s lawyer, Zhang Keke (張科科), said that he visited his client on Tuesday afternoon, and found her unwell and exhausted.
“She was wearing thick pajamas 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 that she was in “constant torment” from around-the-clock 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 might be inflammation due to the insertion of a gastric tube,” he added.
Zhang Keke told her that her family, friends and lawyers urged her to stop her hunger strike, but she refused, he said.
She said that she had expected a court hearing in December, but it appeared that there were no plans to hold one, he said, adding that she did not know if she could survive.
In 2018, Zhang Zhan was detained on similar accusations by Chinese authorities, and again last year, for expressing support for Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates.
She denies the charge of falsifying information, telling her lawyer that all of the information was gathered firsthand through interviews with Wuhan residents.
Zhang Zhan is among several Chinese journalists to have been arrested this year after traveling to Wuhan to report on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chen Qiushi (陳秋實), a former lawyer turned journalist, was detained in January. Li Zehua (李澤華), who traveled to Wuhan to report after Chen’s disappearance, went missing in early February, but was released in April.
Wuhan resident Fang Bin (方斌), who reportedly posted footage of overwhelmed hospitals and filmed police knocking on his door, went missing at the same time, and has not been seen since.
This year, Beijing’s crackdown on human rights advocates and dissidents appears to have worsened.
Yesterday, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said that authorities this week detained lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田), and placed under apparent house arrest lawyers Xie Yanyi (謝燕益), Li Heping (李和平) and his family, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) and his family, and the wife of lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生).
Posting videos of some of the police action at the lawyers’ homes, CHRD accused authorities of turning International Human Rights Day “into a field day for attacking human rights defenders.”
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang
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