The US government expressed concern over the deteriorating health of detained Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and urged Beijing to release her.
Ms Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison for her on-the-ground reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
“We have repeatedly expressed our grave concern about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her ill-treatment during that detention. We repeat our appeal to the PRC [ People’s Republic of China] for her immediate and unconditional release,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.
She has been on an intermittent hunger strike since her May 2020 detention. Ms Zhang has lost weight and is reportedly being force-fed through a feeding tube.
Citing reports of her health condition, Mr Price said the US government has “grave concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her ill-treatment during that detention”.
“We reiterate our appeal to the People’s Republic of China for its immediate and unconditional release,” he added.
The 38-year-old former lawyer had traveled to Wuhan in February 2020 when the first cases of the coronavirus disease were reported. She documented and livestreamed what she saw on the streets and hospitals of Wuhan — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — despite threats from Chinese authorities.
In her coverage, she posted Covid-19-related stories on her social media accounts, including the detention of other independent journalists and harassment of families of victims who sought government accountability during the outbreak.
She was found guilty in December of “picking and causing trouble”. Chinese authorities claimed her reporting was “maliciously fabricated”.
Last week, her family said she “may not survive” due to being severely underweight. Her brother Zhang Ju wrote on Twitter: “Zhan is 177cm tall, now she has less than 40kg wt [weight]. She may not survive the coming cold winter. I hope the world remembers how it used to be.”
Mr Zhang’s social media post sparked new outrage and demands for his sister’s release.
Rights group Amnesty International, in a statement on Nov. 4, urged the Chinese government to “release her immediately so she can end her hunger strike and receive the proper medical treatment she so desperately needs.”
The organization said it “risks dying in prison” if not “urgently released” for treatment.
Meanwhile, the journalistic advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) nominated Ms. Zhang for the 2021 press freedom award for bravery.
In September, RSF and a coalition of 44 human rights NGOs called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to release Ms. Zhang.