A citizen reporter detained for more than six months after reporting on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak had a feeding tube forcibly inserted and her arms restrained to prevent her from removing it, her lawyer said.
Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old former lawyer, went on hunger strike at a detention center near Shanghai. Zhang was arrested in May and charged with “picking up disputes and causing trouble,” a charge frequently used against critics and activists in China, after reporting on social media and streaming accounts. Last month, she was formally charged with spreading false information.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Zhang’s attorney Zhang Keke said he visited his client on Tuesday afternoon and found her sick and exhausted.
“She was wearing heavy pajamas with a belt around her waist, her left hand pinned in front and her right hand pinned behind,” he wrote. “She said she had had a gastric tube inserted recently and because she wanted to remove it, she was contained.
Zhang Keke said she was in a “constant torment” of 24 hours a day of restraint and needed help using the bathroom.
“In addition to the headaches, dizziness and stomach pain, there was also pain in the mouth and throat. She said it could be inflammation from inserting a stomach tube.
Zhang Keke said he told Zhang that her family, friends, and lawyers urged her to stop her hunger strike, but she refused. He said Zhang told him that she expected a court hearing in December, and now it looked like there was no plan to have one, she wasn’t sure if she would survive.
Zhang was previously detained on similar charges by Chinese authorities in 2018 and again in 2019 for expressing support for activists in Hong Kong. She denies the allegation of falsifying information, telling her lawyer that all the information was gathered firsthand during interviews with residents of Wuhan.
Zhang is among several Chinese journalists who have been arrested this year after traveling to Wuhan to report on the virus outbreak and the response.
Chen Qiushi, a former lawyer turned journalist, was arrested in January. Li Zehua, who traveled to Wuhan to report after Chen’s disappearance, was reported 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, disappeared at the same time but has not been seen since.
The Chinese government’s crackdown on activists, dissidents and human rights organizations appears to have worsened this year.
Chinese human rights defenders (CHRD) said on Thursday that just this week, authorities arrested attorney Tang Jitian and placed attorneys Xie Yanyi, Li Heping and his family, Wang Quanzhang and his family under house arrest, as well as the wife of lawyer Yu Wenshang. Posting videos of some of the police actions at the lawyers’ homes, CHRD accused authorities of turning “Human Rights Day into a day on the ground to attack human rights defenders.”
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang