China Tries Online Activists Who Saved Censored Coronavirus Posts on Github

Two Chinese activists who kept an online repository of banned articles on the coronavirus pandemic stood trial in Beijing on Tuesday, while a journalist was attacked by unidentified thugs in Hong Kong.

Chen Mei and Cai Wei stood trial at the Chaoyang District People’s Court in Beijing, on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

According to Chen Mei’s brother, Chen Kun, their mother and Cai Wei’s father were allowed to attend the trial, which lasted around 100 minutes.

The pair were accused in the indictment of posting around 600 articles to their Terminus2049 page on Github, creating a repository of censored and deleted articles about the early weeks of the pandemic in China, according to the indictment against them.

The articles and social media posts included a eulogy for late whistleblowing Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, and an interview with former Wuhan Central Hospital ER director Ai Fen.

Both Chen and Cai pleaded guilty, and the trial ended, with sentencing to be announced at a later date.

Both were held under “residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL),” despite the fact that neither was accused of a crime involving national security.

They were allocated “defense” attorneys by the government, while a rights attorney hired by Chen’s family was prevented from acting for his client.

Chen’s mother Wei Xiuwen said the insistence on official lawyers was illegal. “Basically the entire case was handled by the prosecution working with official lawyers,” she said.

“They are persecuting Chen Mei and handling the case illegally,” Wei said, vowing to appeal. “Chen Mei is not guilty, and I will not accept any length of [prison] sentence, not even one day.”

Forced confessions

Chen’s brother Chen Kun told RFA after the trial that the pair had likely “confessed” under duress.

“They forced them to plead guilty, they assigned [officially approved] lawyers to them, and they stopped the outside world from gaining access to the courtroom,” Chen Kun said.

He said the pair were almost certain to be convicted, and that he was concerned about their sentence.

“The maximum sentence for picking quarrels and stirring up trouble is five years,” Chen Kun said.

Cai’s father Cai Jianli said he had written to the prosecutor to protest the handling of the case.

“They just say you have committed a crime, and they give you no chance to defend yourself, or to fight it,” he said.

Hong Kong barrister and rights activist Chow Hang-tung said the international community should pay attention to Cai and Chen’s case.

“China has dealt with these enthusiastic young people with extreme harshness,” Chow told RFA. “Their idea of controlling the pandemic was to shut down any information about it.”

Reporter attacked with bat

Meanwhile, unidentified thugs in Hong Kong beat up a journalist for the Epoch Times newspaper, which has close ties to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

An unidentified man attacked reporter Sarah Liang with a softball bat outside her apartment building. Liang suffered bruises to both legs and was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Liang had earlier reported being followed by an unknown man on April 26, as well as a man harassing her at her home on April 24.

She told RFA on Tuesday that a “thin, vicious-looking man with short hair” had set about her with the bat.

“I didn’t know him,” she said. “He hit me with the bat, and didn’t say anything the whole time.”

“I think it was meant to send a message to all Hong Kong media and frontline reporters,” Liang said. “They want to silence us.”

“They are now openly beating people up in broad daylight, and I think it is a kind of war against the people of Hong Kong,” she said.

The attack came after a printing press used by the paper was smashed up by people with sledgehammers on April 12.

“The actions against the Epoch Times are part of a campaign of intimidation, violent attacks, illegal arrests, and stigmatization by CCP officials and in CCP-controlled media directed against the free press in Hong Kong,” the editorial said.

“The CCP seeks to intimidate journalists and citizens, making honest reporting more difficult to do in Hong Kong, and to force the free press to abandon working there,” it said.

Reported by Lu Xi, Xue Xiaoshan and Gigi Lee for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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