Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the failure of the prison authorities to treat ailing writer and cyber-dissident Zhang Jianhong, who is also known by the pen-name of Li Hong. Imprisoned since September 2006, Zhang has been in a critical condition for the past three months and could become permanently paralysed.
“While China celebrates the approach of the Olympic Games, a prisoner of conscience risks being paralysed for the rest of his life for lack of treatment in prison,” the press freedom organisation said. “For more than two months, the authorities have been turning a deaf ear to Zhang’s request to be treated in hospital. We call for the immediate release of this cyber-dissident, whose dramatic plight is causing even further damage to China’s image.”
Zhang’s wife told Radio Free Asia on 5 August: “The prison officials told me on 26 June he was getting treatment but would have to follow the legal procedure to obtain permission to be hospitalised. I have not been able to see him since then. I hope the authorities show enough humanity to allow him to be hospitalised as soon as possible. If they do not, I cannot imagine what will happen.”
The same day, more than a thousand friends, colleagues and sympathisers posted an open letter on the Boxun (www.boxun.com) news website calling for Zhang’s release for humanitarian reasons. “If Li Hong [Zhang] is not treated quickly, he could become completely paralysed and die,” the letter said. “If anything terrible happens to him, China could no longer be a credible international partner.”
One of the letter’s signatories, Wu Fan, the editor of Zhongguo Shiwu (Chinese Affairs), said of Zhang: “He is someone who wishes the country well. He never wanted to overthrow the government (...) He is an academic, not a terrorist. He cannot be treated in this fashion.”
Zhang’s lawyer, Li Jianqiang, received a letter from him in June saying: “My illness is extremely rare. Currently there is no medicine or effective treatment. My condition has deteriorated in the past month and my muscles are atrophying. I virtually cannot move my arms and this phenomenon is spreading to my legs. My feet are already paralysed. If this continues, I will be subjected to the terrible ordeal of complete paralysis, like British physicist Stephen Hawking.”
Zhang was sentenced by a court in Ningpo, in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, on 19 March to six years in prison for writing “articles defaming the Chinese government and calling for agitation to overthrow the government.”
A member of the Chinese branch of the independent writers association PEN, Zhang founded the literary website Aiqinghai.org in 2005. He also posted regularly on the Weilai Zhongguo forum and wrote articles for Chinese websites based abroad. He spent a year and a half in a reeducation-through-work camp after getting involved in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.