November 15, 2021
To the directors of the Shanghai Municipal Justice Bureau and Shanghai Women’s Prison:
We, as citizens, as friends of Zhang Zhan (张展), and as people who admire her sense of conscience, have been concerned about the deteriorating state of her health. We are deeply concerned to have learned that Zhang Zhan’s older brother recently filed an application for medical parole on her behalf, and that she is on the verge of death. To prevent a tragedy, we feel it necessary to write you a letter to express our collective request: that Zhang Zhan be given a comprehensive physical examination and that she receive timely emergency medical treatment.
Zhang Zhan has been on a hunger strike for months, which is not a situation that those who care about her would like to see. We have also persuaded Zhang Zhan through different channels to stop the hunger strike and protect her health. But this is a matter of her own faith and conscience. Based on information provided by Zhang’s attorneys and family members, as well as our knowledge of Zhang Zhan’s character, her object in going on hunger strike is not to obtain a lighter sentence in court nor to receive medical parole or early release following the verdict. Zhang Zhan’s hunger strike is a pure expression of rejection in the face of persecution.
If Zhang Zhan were really guilty, even if she believed she was innocent and went on a hunger strike to the point of emaciation, from the perspective of legal order, we would not propose that she be allowed medical parole or to serve her sentence outside of prison; nor would we call on you to give her a full medical checkup and emergency aid.
However, Zhang Zhan is not guilty.
Zhang Zhan is someone who went to Wuhan alone when many people fled the city from the coronavirus epidemic. This is the kind of rare courage of someone who makes sacrifices for the common good in times of national crisis or lays down their life for a righteous cause. It can be said that individuals like Zhang Zhan are a nation’s greatest spiritual treasure. While in Wuhan, she spent most of her time quietly documenting the lives of Wuhan residents during the epidemic, occasionally helping others to send out distress information, while not interfering in any way with the government’s disaster prevention and relief efforts. Her role during the epidemic was essentially that of a citizen journalist. How could such behavior be considered “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (“寻衅滋事”)?
In the face of a major disaster, even if the government response is strong, it needs citizens to do some auxiliary work. Citizens going against the grain to visit the disaster site is a behavior that a modern government should encourage, not only to directly help in disaster relief, but also in shaping a social atmosphere of mutual aid and care, which in some sense may be of even greater value. There is no justification for bringing criminal charges to punish Zhang Zhan for this completely benign and helpful behavior.
We say that Zhang Zhan’s innocence manifests not only in the sense of natural law, but also in the sense of practical law. Her benign behavior places no menace on society, and is wholly inconsistent with the criminal definition of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang Zhan’s civil disobedience to persecution can be justified from all three aspects of law, reason, and conscience.
As a devout Christian, Zhang Zhan carried herself with humility, and during her time in Wuhan, she acted in a low-profile and modest manner without any fanfare, moving around in the city quietly without any thoughts of secular gain. If it were not for the arrest and persecution of her by the public security authorities in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai, not many people would know about her. This is a fact, and stating this does not harm Zhang Zhan’s image. She is like a pearl buried in the ocean sand; whether others find her and recognize her or not, she remains a pearl, oblivious to her discovery.
The international and domestic attention that Zhang Zhan is now receiving is due to the abuse of power and trampling of the law by authorities in Shanghai. Today, Zhang Zhan’s life hangs by a thread, and if the tragedy of her death does happen, there will be a frenzy of international and domestic condemnation and accusations, something from which nobody benefits. Zhang Zhan’s parents will have lost their daughter, we will have lost our friend, China will have lost a good citizen, and you, the Shanghai police, prosecutors, and judges, will bear eternal guilt.
Zhang Zhan is a person of rare, unflinching character. She lives with dignity, willing even to martyr herself in order to protest the persecution against her. We urgently request that you provide Zhang Zhan a full medical examination and urgent medical attention as soon as possible, while there is still time for treatment.
We request that Zhang Zhan be given a full medical examination and urgent medical treatment before her release on medical parole or release from prison because we believe that she should not only be released, but also be able live in good health, unlike some prisoners of conscience who were granted medical parole on their deathbeds only to die shortly after their release, allowing their persecutors to pretend they are free of guilt.
Our request is not excessive because Zhang Zhan is innocent to begin with and because she was healthy before her arrest. Your offices have the responsibility to ensure that those held in your custody remain in good health.
November 12, 2021
Tang Jitian (唐吉田), human rights lawyer.
Xie Yang (谢阳), human rights lawyer.
Wang Yu (王宇), human rights lawyer.
Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), human rights lawyer.
Li Dawei (李大伟), former political prisoner and lawyer who has never been allowed to practice.
The letter is open to the public to co-sign. If you wish to co-sign it, please contact email: email@example.com with your name and occupation.
To view the letter in Chinese and the list of co-signatories, please visit:
‘Criminal Judgment’ of Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan by Court in Shanghai, January 15, 2021.
Zhang Zhan, on Trial for Documenting Covid-19 in Wuhan, China (a 6-minute documentary), December 28, 2020.