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Status of imprisoned Chinese blogger unknown five days after scheduled release

Zhang Zhan, 40, seen here in a screen capture of a video uploaded to YouTube on May 14, 2020, the same day she was arrested on charges relating to her coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic from Wuhan. Screen capture courtesy YouTube/video
Zhang Zhan, 40, seen here in a screen capture of a video uploaded to YouTube on May 14, 2020, the same day she was arrested on charges relating to her coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic from Wuhan. Screen capture courtesy YouTube/video

May 16 (UPI) -- The status and location of a Chinese blogger who was imprisoned for her coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak remained unknown Thursday, five days after she was to be released from a Shanghai prison, raising worries about her safety.

Zhang Zhan, 40, had spent four years in a Chinese prison following her conviction in December 2020 for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" with her early coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak from Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic.

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She was to be released from Shanghai Women's Prison on Monday, but no one has heard from her since, leading some to describe her as having been "disappeared."

"Day 5: it's poignant that #ZhangZhan, who inspires us to fight for transparency and the right to information, has been 'disappeared' and her family silenced once again," Jane Wang, a Chinese activist based in Britain who has been advocating for Zhang's release, said Thursday on X.

Wang initially publicized that there had been no confirmation that Zhang had left the prison as expected on Monday.

She said they should have either heard from her or her family by Monday night concerning her release.

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"Instead, we are left wondering where she is, how she is doing physically and mentally, what's happened to her family and what the future holds for her," Wang said.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday said the Biden administration is "deeply concerned" over reports of Zhang's disappearance and urged the People's Republic of China to respect her human rights.

"The United States has repeatedly expressed our serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and authorities' mistreatment of her," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Zhang was arrested May 14, 2020, the same day she posted her final video of hundreds she had shared on social media, including YouTube, detailing the situation in Wuhan amid the pandemic and China's repressive response to it.

As she was serving her sentence, there were doubts raised that she would be released when the time came, with Reporters Without Borders stating last month that journalists detained for their work in China are often surveilled after release and banned from traveling abroad.

The non-government international journalism advocate said that she had undergone hunger strikes during her imprisonment in defense of her innocence, which resulted in her nearly dying. Authorities ended up force feeding her nasally with a tube, it said.

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China has jailed more than prisoners and press freedom advocates than any other country with at least 119 detainees, RSF said, and is ranked 179th out of 180 countries in its 2023 world press freedom index.

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