Family members express concern about Zhang Zhan’s condition in jail

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan’s brother shared some latest updates about the detained former lawyer on Twitter in recent days, as he is worried she might not be able to make it through the coming winter. Zhang reportedly suffers from malnutrition and activists around the world are calling on the Chinese government to release her on bail on medical grounds.

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan has been detained for 18 months after she tried to reveal the situation in Wuhan during the total lockdown in early 2020. She was charged with picking quarrels and provoking trouble in December 2020 and was sentenced to four years in jail.

In August, sources told me that Zhang continued her hunger strike in prison, causing her to suffer from malnutrition. Her weight has reportedly dropped to below 40 kilograms. On October 30, her brother Zhang Ju began to express his concern about Zhang’s situation on Twitter.

“Zhang Zhan’s height is 177 centimeters and she now weighs less than 40 kilograms,” he wrote on Twitter. “ She is so stubborn and I’m worried that she won’t live for too long. If she didn’t make it through the winter, I hope the world can remember how she originally looks.”

The next day, Zhang’s brother revealed that he sent letters to Zhang, including a letter from Mindy Shih, the wife of detained Chinese activist Cheng Yuan. “I’m not a Christian, but I’m thankful for all the friends who have expressed goodwill and blessings to my sister,” her brother wrote on Twitter.

In fact, Zhang’s mother went to visit her last week, and her brother said Zhang’s mother cried for a long time after the visit, and her eyes were filled with sorrow since Zhang’s physical figure has changed so much that she simply looks too sick. “My sister only thinks about justice and the god, and she doesn’t care about anything else,” he wrote. “My poor parents. They have to go through such torture at the age of 65.”

Zhang’s brother recalls some details about her character, describing her as cute, a bit reserved, and soft-hearted. “She was extremely cute and sweet, and she had a round face,” he wrote. “She often showed us the songs and dances that she learned at school.”

He also wondered if he had not invited Zhang to Shanghai, maybe she wouldn’t face detention now. “This world has too much unfairness, and Zhang Zhan is the last person who should be experiencing such pain and misery,” her brother wrote on Twitter.

Li Da-Wei, a human rights lawyer who keeps in touch with Zhang Zhan’s family, says that he hopes the Chinese government can take the pleas from Zhang’s family members and the international community seriously, and ensure that Zhang can regain freedom on humanitarian ground.

Li points out that while the Chinese government has granted detainees bail on medical grounds before, detainees usually need to accept the conditions set out by the government, which are usually confessed to crimes or wrongdoings and they can never mention anything related to their detention once they are released on bail.

“I don’t think Zhang Zhan can accept these conditions, because if she had accepted these conditions, she would have been released now,” he said.

Cai Xia, a former teacher at the Chinese Communist Party’s party school, also called on the Chinese government to release Zhang on medical parole. “I can’t see Zhang keep living like this,” she wrote on Twitter. “If the Chinese government has any compassion, they should immediately release Zhang Zhan to medical parole. I call on the international community to pay attention to Zhang Zhan, and call on more NGOs to unite and ask the Chinese authorities to let her live!”

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.