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45 NGOs urge China to immediately free journalist who reported on COVID

Zhang in prison since early 2020 for covering COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan

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File photo: Activists call for release of Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan as they march to Chinese central government's liaison office&...

File photo: Activists call for release of Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan as they march to Chinese central government's liaison office&... (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On the eve of a holiday traditionally seen as a time for family reunions and reconnection, Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan (張展) remains behind bars over a year after covering the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan, and 45 NGOs are calling for her release.

Zhang was arrested in early 2020 and began a hunger strike that May, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The group has described her as "at risk of dying" due to significant weight loss after a long time being force-fed through a nasal tube by the authorities.

The 38-year-old reporter and former lawyer went to Wuhan to report on the outbreak in February last year. Images of hospitals jammed with suspected COVID patients and bodies piled up in local crematoriums were made visible to the outside world through her streaming videos and social media posts.

Zhang was sentenced to four years in prison on Dec. 28, 2020, on the charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble." Her lawyer has disclosed that Zhang is in poor health following her force-feeding and hunger strike.

In a joint letter addressed to Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平), a coalition of 45 human rights NGOs, including RSF, are calling for Zhang's exoneration and "immediate" release due to her condition. The letter stated that she has not committed any crime and instead should be lauded for having the courage to risk her life to inform the public of the major health crisis.

"She should never have been arrested, let alone subjected to a harsh prison sentence,” said the head of RSF's East Asia bureau, Cédric Alviani, who urged Xi to “ensure that Zhang Zhan is released before it’s too late.”

The letter was posted on Sept. 17, just days before the Moon Festival, a traditional East Asian holiday celebrated by China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore, among other countries. Held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the Moon Festival will fall on a Tuesday (Sept. 21) this year.