"It's a tragedy that Zhang is compelled to compromise his health to bring attention to this injustice," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "We condemn his outrageous prison sentence and call on authorities to release Zhang immediately and unconditionally."
Authorities detained Zhang in Anhui Province on January 29. On July 28, the Anhui Intermediate People's Court found Zhang guilty of inciting subversion through a radio interview and six articles criticizing the Communist Party that he posted on overseas dissident news Web sites. His prison term is to be followed by four years' deprivation of political rights. The writer has appealed his sentence.
Zhang reported on-line about events that were blocked from mainstream news coverage, including protests by unemployed workers. His wife Fang Caofang believes that his arrest was also connected to these reports, according to Agence France-Presse.
Zhang began a hunger strike on September 1, was hospitalized briefly, and returned to the detention center, according to local sources. On September 4, Fang received what appeared to be a farewell letter from her husband, telling her to raise their small child and to leave the country if possible.
Fang last saw her husband on September 8 and reported that he was very weak. Authorities barred her from visiting Zhang at the detention center today.
Conditions for Zhang have been harsh even by local standards. Prison officials have subjected him to long hours of forced labor and have refused to allow him to read newspapers or other material, according to his lawyer. A local source told CPJ that Zhang was forced to make Christmas ornaments before the hunger strike made him too weak to work.