Updated: Human rights defender mysteriously dies


Update: Since this report was published, an autopsy was conducted on the body. Although the doctor initially ruled that the cause of death was unknown, a spokesperson for a prosecutor’s office handling the case said he had died of poisoning. 

A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that Zhang had died of liver ascites.

(Munich—May 8, 2019) En route to Paris, Zhang Jian, a former student participant in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, passed away suddenly in Munich on April 23.

After boarding a flight from Omar to Paris, Zhang suffered severe health complications, and the aircraft landed in Munich so he could be rushed to a hospital, where doctors before performed emergency rescue procedures on him. Despite their efforts, Zhang died.

Before news of his death had been confirmed, Zhang went missing in Thailand, and it is not known who he met with or whether or not anyone there contributed to his death.

Although a doctor initially ruled his cause of death was unknown, a representative a prosecution office handling his case said that he had died of poisoning after an autopsy was conducted, according to Wei Jingsheng Foundation News.

This echoes the case of Li Baiguang, a Chinese human rights defender who died suddenly in a Nanjing military hospital after arriving there to seek treatment for stomach pain. Hours later, he died mysteriously, and doctors alleged his passing was due to liver complications. Li previously had no record of having the disease, arousing suspicions from human rights activists and prompting ChinaAid to ask for a clear and honest report from the Chinese government regarding his demise. None was issued.

Born in the Tongzhou District of Beijing, Zhang was admitted to a sports college within the Chinese capital in 1989. The same year, he participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, in which thousands of students from across the country held pro-democracy demonstrations in front of the Great Hall of the People. On June 4, the Chinese government dispatched military to the square, killing hundreds of people.

Zhang confronted one of the military convoys but was shot by an officer, fracturing a third of his humeral shaft. He was rushed by Beijing’s Tongren Hospital, where he stayed for 90 days. The bullet, however, would not be removed until Nov. 22, 2008, when he sought medical treatment in France.

Following June 4, 1989, Zhang remained incognito for 12 years, moving from place to place. He resurfaced in the public eye in 2001, when he participated in an event protecting the rights of Beijing taxi drivers. In May of that year, he fled to France, where he obtained asylum.

Zhang had also been actively involved in overseas democratic movements.

Since leaving China, he had never had the opportunity to return—something he mourned deeply. In a song he wrote titled “I Stand at the Door of Home,” he says, “In
the sunset, in wisps of smoke, the appearance of my hometown reverberates in my
mind. There are laughter and tears … only love is my faithful companion.”

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