Zhang Hai (张海)Comments Off on Zhang Hai (张海)
Crime: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”
Length of Punishment:
Court: Wuhan Hanyang District Court
Trial Date: November 10, 2023
Dates of Detention/Arrest/Indictment: February 17, 2023; news of arrest and indictment on April 1, 2023
Place of Incarceration: Hanyang District Detention Center
After losing his father to COVID-19 in 2020, Zhang Hai became one of China’s foremost activists seeking compensation and accountability in the wake of the Chinese government’s bungled handling of the pandemic and lack of transparency. Zhang Hai has since been persecuted after posting on behalf of Chinese citizens seeking to guarantee their right to health.
On February 17, 2023, Zhang Hai went missing after he had posted videos in support of senior citizens protesting in Wuhan and Dalian against medical reform plans that weakened their access to health care by reducing medical payouts under an insurance scheme offered to retired employees of state-owned enterprises.
The “White Hair” protests, as they were known, occurred just two months after the “White Paper” protests against COVID restrictions, which had spread throughout China.
In April, Zhang Hai was arrested on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
In July, it was learned that prosecutors in had sent back the case to police for further investigation.
In August, Zhang Hai was allowed to see a lawyer for the first time. It was learned that the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” did relate to the videos and pictures of protests by senior citizens, but Zhang Hai felt that he was innocent of any crime, as his posting of these videos and images was a right he had as a citizen. During this time, it was also learned that Zhang Hai had recently developed high blood pressure in detention, which he was receiving medicine for. He had not had this condition before entering detention, however.
In late October 2023, it was learned that Zhang Hai was indicted. Also, curiously, his lawyer was told by Zhang Hai’s wife that Zhang no longer wanted to have him as a lawyer and he had written a document indicated he would end the lawyer’s legal representation. [Putting pressure on sensitive human rights defenders to supposedly end their relationship with their lawyers is a common tactic Chinese government authorities have taken to ensure that future trials can proceed completely according to the whims of the Party-state]. Zhang also reportedly plead guilty to the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. But curiously, when the lawyer visited Zhang in August, as mentioned above, Zhang said that he agreed with the underlying facts of the case (ie…what he had posted about retired workers protesting) but thought that everything he had said was protected by his right to freedom of expression as a citizen. Zhang had felt at the time that detaining him was a mistake.
Zhag Hai went on trial on at the Wuhan Hanyang District Court on November 10. Although Zhang Hai had reportedly agreed to a pleading guilty agreement with the prosecution, there was no sentence immediately after the trial, which led commentators to be concerned that he may be a victim of long post-trial detention.
Victim of Pervasive Censorship related to COVID-19
According to Rights and Livelihood Watch, at around 10 a.m. on May 4, 2020, Zhang Hai, whose father died of COVID-19, posted an article on Weibo “About Raising… Announcement on Fundraising for the Erection of Monuments to Commemorate the Victims of the Wuhan Epidemic” (see screenshot on Weibo). Zhang hoped to raise funds to erect monuments to commemorate all the Wuhan residents who unfortunately died of COVID-19, and to engrave the names and photos of each victim so that more people would be aware of the disaster caused by the Wuhan government’s cover-up of the epidemic. And yet, a few minutes after he posted the announcement, he found that only 29 people had read it. However, he could see the content of the announcement picture and knew it had been blocked. He later posted it several times, and when the number of reads exceeded 300, he found that the announcement picture had been blocked again.
Zhang Hai experienced firsthand the widespread censorship of the time on Chinese social media channels, as we documented.
First Lawsuit Seeking Accountability and Compensation
In 2020, Zhang Hai filed China’s first lawsuit seeking punitive damage by family of a COVID-19 victim. On June 10, Zhang sued the Wuhan Municipal People’s Government, the Hubei Provincial People’s Government, and the Wuhan Central Theater General Hospital as co-defendants to the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court, requesting the court to order the Wuhan Municipal People’s Government, the Hubei Provincial People’s Government and their subordinate functional departments, the Health Commission, to apologize to the plaintiff in a newspaper for their cover up of the COVID-19 pandemic information and demanding that the three defendants pay nearly 2 million yuan in compensation. After receiving the indictment, the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court told Zhang Hai by phone that it would not allow the case to be filed. After Zhang Hai pressed him on the reason for not filing the case and asked for a written ruling in accordance with the law, the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court refused on the grounds that Zhang Hai should “look at the law for himself/”
On June 24, Zhang Hai wrote an “Application for Legal Supervision of the Wuhan Intermediate Court’s Refusal to File Cases” and sent it to the Wuhan Municipal Procuratorate, the Hubei Provincial People’s Procuratorate and the Hubei Higher People’s Court, requesting these three departments, which have nominal authority to supervise the actions of courts, to punish the Wuhan Intermediate Court for violating the Administrative Procedure Law. “We will not register the case or issue a written ruling for illegal activities for legal supervision. However, during this period, we only received a complaint acceptance notice sent by the Hubei Provincial Procuratorate via mobile phone text message, and there was no other behavioral feedback.
Zhang Hai knew that the likely reason why the court did not file the case was the obstruction from the Hubei Province and the Wuhan Municipal Government, but he was persistent. He felt that the best comfort for his deceased father was to find an explanation (讨个说法). He said: “Since I filed the lawsuit, me, and my family, and my relatives have been subjected to more inexplicable harassment and investigations. Even when I first arrived in Wuhan, I was ‘kindly reminded’ by the community director of the place where I live that the place where I live was also investigated by the police, but I just wanted to get an explanation. We cannot allow my father to be infected and die like this in a daze without anyone taking responsibility. Therefore, we must resolutely carry out the procedure and let the whole society see how the courts at all levels handle cases. I am not afraid if you can give me a chance to litigate. I lost the case, but the other party is afraid that I will sue.”
On October 19, 2020 Zhang Hai mailed a letter to the Wuhan Municipal and Hubei Provincial Governments with a government information disclosure application requesting the disclosure of information on “the names and positions of public officials who concealed or lied about confirmed diagnoses, deaths, or suspected illnesses during the Wuhan COVID-19 epidemic.”
Later, on March 8, 2021, Zhang Hai sent a letter to China’s National Health Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day, requesting the disclosure of the specific itinerary of the WHO expert team in China, and the reasons and basis for the Chinese government’s refusal to provide original patient data. When WHO experts visited Wuhan, Zhang had hoped to speak with them and describe the experiences he had had, as a person who lost his father due to COVID-19 and the difficulty in seeking justice. However, local officials constrained his freedom of movement and prevented him from being interviewed.