Fang Bin, who documented the initial Covid outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has been freed from jail after three years, sources told the BBC.
Mr Fang is one of several so-called citizen journalists who disappeared after sharing videos of scenes in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic.
After disappearing in February 2020, he was sentenced to three years in jail at a secret trial in Wuhan, sources said.
He was released on Sunday and is in good health, they added.
Mr Fang is now back home in Wuhan. The BBC could not reach his family for comment.
The video that caught the attention of the outside world was one where he counted eight body bags outside a Covid hospital in the space of five minutes. He said he was detained that night but released. Then came a video with the message: “All people revolt – hand the power of the government back to the people”. That was the last video he shared.
Although activists have welcomed his release, they are concerned about the fate of another whistleblower – Zhang Zhan, a 39-year-old former lawyer, was detained in May 2020 and jailed for four years in December 2020.
Like Mr Fang, she too was convicted for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, according to activists who say the vague offence has often been used against critics of China’s government. Two other citizen reporters Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua also disappeared in Wuhan in February 2020, but surfaced months later.
Their videos provided a rare glimpse into Wuhan in the early months of 2020. Cases were climbing and lockdowns had come into force, but information from officials remained scarce. Wuhan’s 76-day lockdown – which inspired the country’s harsh zero-Covid strategy – put the city under severe strain.
Ms Zhang, who lived in Shanghai, travelled to Wuhan in February 2020 to report on the outbreak after reading about a resident’s experience. She was active on YouTube and Twitter, both of which are banned in mainland China, and continued sharing videos despite reportedly being threatened by local authorities.
“Maybe I have a rebellious soul… I’m just documenting the truth. Why can’t I show the truth?” she said in an interview with an independent filmmaker that was obtained by the BBC. (BBC)