EU calls on China for “immediate” release of “citizen journalist” Zhang Zhan

Josep Borrell is the head of European diplomacy. – John Thys / AP / SIPA

The EU asked China on Tuesday to release “immediately” the “citizen journalist” Zhang Zhan, sentenced to 4 years in prison after covering the epidemic, when an investment agreement between Beijing and Brussels is close to completion.

“EU calls for the immediate release of Ms. Zhang Zhan”, as well as that of human rights defenders and personalities detained in China for reporting “public interest” information, a door said in a statement. – speech of the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell.

Seven years of negotiations

“Restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information, intimidation and surveillance of journalists, such as the detentions, trials and sentences of human rights defenders, lawyers and intellectuals in China continue to grow and remain a source of great concern, ”he added. The call comes as China and the European Union appear to be on the verge of concluding, after seven years of negotiations, an ambitious reciprocal investment protection agreement, despite accusations of forced labor against Beijing.

Zhang Zhan went to Wuhan (central China) in February, then in the grip of the Covid-19 epidemic, broadcasting reports on the Internet, in particular on the chaotic situation in hospitals. Arrested in May, accused of “provoking unrest” and disseminating false information, she was sentenced Monday to 4 years imprisonment by a Shanghai court.

Torture and ill-treatment

“According to credible sources, Ms. Zhang was subjected to torture and ill-treatment during her detention, and her health seriously deteriorated. It is crucial that she receives adequate medical assistance ”, insisted the European spokesperson. Besides Zhang Zhan, the EU is calling for the immediate release of lawyer Yu Wensheng, whose four-year prison sentence was upheld on appeal in mid-December.

She also claims that of lawyers Li Yuhan and Gao Zhisheng, cyber-dissidents Huang Qi and Wu Gan, human rights defender Ge Jueping (arrested in 2016 during the G20 in China), the writer and activist Qin Yongmin, the activist of the Tibetan language Tashi Wangchuk, human rights defender Liu Feiyue, as well as Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti. The latter, sentenced to life imprisonment in China for “separatism”, was the 2019 winner of the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights awarded by the European Parliament.

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