Friends and supporters of jailed Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan have begun to release interviews with her recorded before her arrest, in the hope of drawing the world’s attention to her plight. Sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a catch-all charge that Chinese authorities have often used to stifle political dissidents – Zhang was in a critical condition after she started a hunger strike to protest against her arrest and sentence, according to a lawyer with knowledge of her situation. Some of the video footage, recorded before Zhang’s arrest in May last year , was released this week by a group of supporters. Meanwhile, an online petition for Zhang’s release has collected more than 1,000 signatures. “The list of signatures continues to be updated, and some signatories have sent the list to Chinese authorities, but there has been no response,” said Jane Wang Jianhong, an activist with Humanitarian China, a US-based group founded by Chinese dissidents. Zhang Keke, Zhang Zhan’s lawyer, said he had not heard from the authorities about an application to meet the citizen journalist since he filed it more than a month ago. Zhang Zhan, 38, has maintained her innocence and has been on intermittent hunger strike since her incarceration. She has at times been force-fed through a nasal tube and physically restrained from removing it. Last December, she attended her trial in Shanghai in a wheelchair before pressing on with her hunger strike in protest against what she called an “unlawful detention and indictment”. Zhang’s mother has been allowed two virtual meetings with her but no in-person contact. When contacted on Wednesday, she confirmed that the authorities had not responded to an application for medical parole, and declined to comment further on her daughter’s condition. In a virtual meeting with her mother last month, Zhang Zhan looked “completely out of shape” and was “unable to walk on her own”, her brother Zhang Ju said earlier. “[In August], the prison doctor already acknowledged that Zhang Zhan could die, weighing only 40kg [88lbs]. I think she is well below 40kg now. “Zhang Zhan’s condition is much worse than it was in the summer. Her life is in danger.” Her brother said the family feared she “might not make it through this winter”. Zhang Zhan was one of four citizen journalists known to have gone to Wuhan last year when the city was put under lockdown early in the Covid-19 pandemic. They were all prevented from reporting and subsequently rounded up by the authorities. Two of the four – Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua – have since been released, while Zhang was sentenced in June and the whereabouts of Fang Bin remains unknown. In the released interviews, Zhang explained that citizen journalism had a pivotal role to play in countries such as China to scrutinise the authorities and fight social injustice. “I think in this country, [we] need to speak out on a lot of things, otherwise the authorities will have free rein,” she said in the excerpts. She said that her reporting was a matter of conscience. “What drives me to do this is that the reality is so terrible that something needs to be done to change the situation – if not, there will be no hope for the country,” she said. “Our generation should take social responsibility. We are almost 40 years old. How can you face younger generations if you keep silent now? How can you stand before them as their senior?” What is the Chinese crime of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’? Zhang said she was prepared for the worst. “If I am arrested, don’t advocate for me for anything,” she said. “I hope everyone will speak out for social [change] and work together to push for an end to the current reign of terror, and [if you do that], you are advocating for me. I hope China can have a new beginning.” Last month, Zhang was awarded the prize for courage in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Awards. The United Nations Human Rights Commission and new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have also spoken out about her case, calling for her immediate release.