New information about detained Chinese citizen journalists emerge

William Yang
4 min readFeb 14, 2022

Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was sentenced to four years in jail by a court in Beijing at the end of 2020 for reporting about the lockdown in the central Chinese city Wuhan, has reportedly become healthier compared to a few months ago. Apart from being able to walk on her own, her stomach, which suffered some damage due to her self-imposed hunger strike, has also gradually recovered. However, another Chinese citizen journalist Fang Bin, who was also arrested for sharing videos of the Wuhan lockdown, still hasn’t been charged formally with a crime yet.

A Chinese citizen journalist who was reportedly suffering from serious malnutrition has reportedly become healthier and has also agreed to start eating on her own. According to Jane Wang, an overseas Chinese activist who has been closely following the case, Zhang Zhan’s mother met her again on January 28, and she found out that Zhang’s health has improved compared to last year. She can now walk on her own again, and she has also gradually recovered from the damage to her stomach caused by the months-long hunger strike.

“The biggest difference from her mother’s most recent video meeting with her was that her health had improved and she also started to ask about her family members,” Wang wrote on Twitter. “She is now also willing to do some handwork. She also started eating on her own, and she no longer needs to be forced-fed.”

Additionally, Wang said Zhang also asked her parents to look after their own health at the end of the 20-minute call. “This is certainly very exciting news because we haven’t had news about Zhang for a long time,” she said. “Her mother was pleased to see an improvement in her health because it makes her see hope again.”

“Reportedly malnourished”

Before this, Zhang was on a self-imposed hunger strike for months, which caused her to be seriously malnourished. She reportedly weighed less than 40 kilograms in August last year. In a tweet, her brother said because Zhang is very stubborn, he worried she wouldn’t be able to live long. “If she couldn’t survive the upcoming winter, I hope the world will remember how she originally looks like,” he wrote.

When her mother went to visit her in October last year, Zhang couldn’t walk without help from others. In an application for medical parole, Zhang’s brother described her as “bony” and “pale.” “Her life hangs by a thread and she couldn’t walk by herself,” he wrote.

“She could only walk about 20 to 30 meters with help from others. My mom was devastated after learning about it, and she even kneeled down in front of the staff at the prison, hoping they would treat my sister humanely,” he added.

At the time, some experts say Zhang’s case reflects how China treats other high-profile dissidents for a long time. Yaqiu Wang, the senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said several Chinese dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, either died in prison or passed away soon after being released.

“The reason why they passed away soon after being released was that they didn’t receive enough medical care in prison,” she said last year. “This shows Zhang’s experience is not an isolated case.”

Jane Wang believes that the large amount of international attention directed to Zhang’s case may have helped to force the prison to change the way they treat Zhang. “We definitely see changes in the way that the prison authorities treat Zhang,” she said.

“I think this is the result of a multi-faceted effort, including Zhang’s willingness to stop the hunger strike. We hope the authorities can treat Zhang in a humane way, including guaranteeing his parents’ rights to visit her,” she added.

Fang Bin’s case has reportedly been transferred to the court

In addition to Zhang Zhan, new information about another Chinese citizen journalist who was arrested for uploading sensitive videos of the Wuhan lockdown has also emerged in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, Jane Wang said Chinese businessman-turned-citizen-journalist Fang Bin is now detained at a local detention center in Wuhan but the exact crime that he is charged with remains unclear. However, she says there is evidence that his case has been transferred to the court.

In fact, Fang is the only citizen journalist arrested in Wuhan whose case the outside world knows very little about. Wang says he still doesn’t have a defense lawyer and his family still can’t save money for him. DW tried to contact the detention center multiple times but the requests have gone unanswered.

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

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William Yang

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