Christian citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, a Wuhan COVID whistleblower, looked very thin and was "almost unrecognizable, like skin and bones," according to her defense lawyer Ren Quanniu, who visited her at the Shanghai Detention Center on Dec. 17.
Ren Quanniu said Zhang Zhan's health had visibly deteriorated; she was frail and shaky and "had been 'stripped' of any resemblance to her previous photos on the internet," human rights watchdog China Aid reports.
Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer turned citizen journalist, left her home in Shanghai and went to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, in February to report about the things that were happening there.
In her reports, she covered issues like government control, government response in addressing the spread of the Wuhan virus, food supply for quarantined families, and medical care.
She also looked for other citizen journalists who disappeared, including Wuhan resident Fang Bin, who recorded a video of the bodies of COVID-19 patients being moved from a hospital.
Zhang Zhan went missing in Wuhan on May 14 after she posted a video about the government's negligence in handling the pandemic. The following day, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau detained her on charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" based on Article 293 of China's Criminal Law, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.
She is scheduled to face trial on Dec. 28. If convicted, she could face four to five years in prison.
At the end of June, Zhang Zhan began her prayer and fasting to pray against injustice and unrighteousness.
"I believe in Christ, and I often pray to God to forgive the wicked. I pray that He will save those in pain and suffering," she told Ren Quanniu.
Her lawyer said her perseverance to fast indicated that she would not yield to nor cooperate with wicked oppression.
"For as many days as the 'great brightness' (prevailing justice) she hopes for does not materialize, and as long as oppression still exists-she will continue to fast," Ren Quanniu said.
However, prison authorities are doing their best to prevent her from fasting. They forcibly inserted a feeding tube in her nose and mouth and fed her five times a day. The feeding tube had not been removed for two months, causing her health to rapidly deteriorate.
"Long-term nasogastric intubation causes illnesses. A person's physical health can rapidly deteriorate from this procedure. Every second of intubation not only feels like torment to Ms. Zhang-but also puts her life at risk," UK-based human rights activist Wang Jianhong said.
Zhang Zhan complained of "headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, and a sore throat as well as a sore mouth," her other lawyer, Zhang Keke, said after he visited her on Dec. 9.
"These problems may be caused by the stomach tube," he added.
Prison authorities also kept Zhang Zhan's hands constantly strapped at her waist, with her left hand in front and her right hand behind her back, to keep her from removing the tube. She found it difficult to sleep with her hands bound at her waist. Her restricted movement also made it hard for her to move around or use the bathroom.
"I am really mentally and physically exhausted," she told Zhang Keke. "Every day, I suffer terribly."
"I am in terrible health, have suffered a lot. The restraint strap made it worse," she added.
Despite her hardship, Zhang Zhan said she "will keep praying and pondering over God's words." She recited 1 Corinthians 10:13, which gave her comfort: "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."
Because of her worsening health condition, Ren Quanniu petitioned the court to allow her to be released on bail and to postpone the Dec. 28 trial. The court denied the petition, reasoning that the detention center's report says Zhang Zhan has no physical problems.
Zhang Zhan's former lawyer Wen Yu dropped the case in September for unspecified reasons. Her present lawyer admitted in an interview with CBS News to being harassed and threatened even told that the police would take his child away.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide called for "the immediate and unconditional release of Zhang Zhan." The organization also urged the UK government to raise the issue with China.
Other groups, such as the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Amnesty International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have also called for Zhang Zhan's release.