Chinese authorities detain three activists over censored coronavirus articles


Chinese police have detained three people who contributed to an online archive of censored articles about the coronavirus outbreak including posts and articles about the early days of the epidemic on a page hosted by the coding site GitHub.

Two men, Chen Mei and Cai Wei have been incommunicado since April 19 when police detained them in Beijing, Chen Kun, Chen Mei’s brother, told Reuters. A third person, Cai’s girlfriend, surnamed Tang, was held on similar charges.

Cai and Tang were initially held on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”. Chen Kun said he did not know what charges, if any, his brother was held on.

All three had worked as volunteers during the coronavirus epidemic.

Cai and Tang’s families have received notification that they are being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” which enables police to deny visits from family or lawyers for up to six months, while holding someone in an unknown location.

Chen Mei, 27, and Cai, who are old friends, were volunteers with a project called Terminus2049, an open-source archive that keeps records of censored articles from Chinese media, Chen Kun said.

The Terminus 2049 Project is built on the GitHub open platform for the purpose of backing up deleted articles on platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, according to the introduction on the website.

In recent months, the project has been active in making records of articles on the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

For a short time after the outbreak started, there was a window of relative openness for China’s online media to report aggressively on the virus.

But that ended in February as censors stepped in to shut WeChat groups, delete social media posts and tighten controls on the domestic media.

Many people who are active online, however, still found ways to share information.

The articles gathered on Terminus 2049 touch on topics that can be seen as sensitive, including when human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus was discovered.

The archive was among those that kept in circulation a profile report on a Wuhan doctor and whistleblower, Ai Fen, which went viral as people translated it in various forms including into Braille, Morse code and even Klingon in a defiance of the censors.

Ai was reprimanded in January for sharing information about the outbreak.

Former NGO worker Yang Zhanqing, who has served jail time for his rights activism, said the three had likely been detained in connection with the site.

“The Terminus 2049 project uses decentralized technology to back up various media articles and Weibo and WeChat posts that have been deleted and blocked in China,” Yang said.

“I think that the sensitivity of this website is the main reason that these three people are now incommunicado.”

He said various attempts to sue Beijing for compensation over the coronavirus pandemic had made the topic of its origins and an official cover-up of human-to-human transmission even more sensitive for the ruling party. (Source: RFA)