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Status of Chinese citizen journalist who reported on COVID unknown on day of expected prison release

BANGKOK (AP) — The whereabouts of a Chinese citizen journalist who served four years in prison for reporting on the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan and was expected to be released Monday are unknown, raising concern from activists.

Zhang Zhan, who had been sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vaguely defined charge often used in political cases, has finished serving her sentence at Shanghai’s Women Prison.

Ren Quanniu, a former lawyer who previously represented Zhang, said he could not reach her father and expressed concern that Zhang would be released only to be put under another form of control by police.

Monday was the last day of her four-year sentence, confirmed Ren and Jane Wang, another overseas activist who launched the Free Zhang Zhan campaign in the U.K.

Zhang was among a handful of citizen journalists who traveled to the central Chinese city of Wuhan after the government put it under total lockdown in February 2020, in the early days of the pandemic. She walked around the city to document public life as fears grew about the then-mysterious coronavirus.

Other citizen journalists have also spent time in jail for documenting the early days of the pandemic, including Fang Bin, who published videos of overcrowded hospitals and bodies during the outbreak. Fang was sentenced to three years in prison and released last April.

Chen Qiushi, another citizen journalist, disappeared in February 2020 while filming in Wuhan. Chen in September 2021 resurfaced on a friend’s live video feed on YouTube, saying he had suffered from depression but did not provide details about his disappearance.

During her prison stay, Zhang staged a hunger strike and was hospitalized at one