The family of a female journalist in China is urging for her immediate release as she is on the verge of death after more than a year imprisoned for covering the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

Former lawyer Zhang Zhan, 38, was detained and sentenced to four years behind bars last year by the authorities over charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” AFP reported.

Three months before being detained, she went to the epicenter of Wuhan province, the first place where COVID emerged and reported how the government handled it. Her stories did not hold back on questioning the authorities’ approaches.

 Now she is severely underweight after being on a hunger strike and force-fed in prison. Her brother, Ju Zhang, on Twitter, was afraid she was wasting away and dying. 

Force-feeding is a torture method used in China, reportedly a common practice against subjects of oppression. The victims will be force-fed with a tube plugged through their nostrils; the procedure is known to be a painful experience and induce respiratory system infections. 

“She may not survive the coming cold winter,” he wrote, as AFP reported. “In her heart, it seems there is only God and her beliefs, with no care for anything else.”

Ms. Zhan was kept in the Shanghai women’s prison, where her family had demanded to see her multiple times, but their requests never received a response.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) said her health was destroyed to the point where she could not walk or even raise her head herself. 

Human rights groups and RSF are demanding her immediate release, deriding the injustice of endangering a person who was only doing her job as a reporter.

“She was only performing her duty as a reporter and should never have been detained, not to mention receive a four-year prison sentence,” RSF wrote.

The Communist government during the early days of COVID-19 had tried to shut down all notifications of the new disease with extreme force. It also imposed the toughest lockdown measures to the people of Wuhan to ease down the outbreak, with shielded doors and all means to go out in public forbidden.

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