Chinese 'activists arrested' for publishing censored coronavirus articles

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 04: Chinese policemen wear protective masks stand in silent tribute during a memorial to mourn for victims of COVID-19 at Shanghai People's Heros Memorial Tower on April 04, 2020 in Shanghai, China. China holds a national mourning on Saturday for martyrs who died in the fight against the novel coronavirus and compatriots died of COVID-19, according to the State Council. During the commemoration, national flags will fly at half-mast across the country as well as in all Chinese embassies and consulates abroad. Public recreational activities will be suspended. At 10:00 am on Saturday, the country will observe three minutes of silence to mourn for the diseased, while air raid sirens and horns of automobiles, trains and ships will wail in grief. (Photo by Yifan Ding/Getty Images)
Chinese police arrested three people on suspicion of publishing censored articles, the brother of one has told Reuters news agency (Yifan Ding/Getty Images)

Chinese police have detained three people after they contributed to an online archive of censored articles about the coronavirus outbreak, say family members.

Two men, Chen Mei and Cai Wei, and Cai’s girlfriend Tang have not been in touch with family since 19 April when they were arrested in Beijing, Chen Mei's brother Chen Kun told the Reuters news agency.

Cai was held on charges of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" – an accusation often used against political activists in China.

Chen Kun said he did not know what charges, if any, his brother was held on.

Tang was held on similar charges, Chen Kun said, although it is not known if she was directly involved in the archive project.

BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 09: A newspaper stand is seen closed during the usually busy evening rush hours in the central business district on March 9, 2020 in Beijing, China. In Beijing, the normally bustling capital, daily life has fallen into a rhythm of social distancing that is widely accepted as the new norm after two months of restrictions to stop coronavirus from spreading.  Millions of people are still working from home, schools and entertainment venues remain closed, and even commutes on some public transit need to be pre-booked to control crowds.  At the same time, China has been grappling with how to restart and revive the worlds second largest economy without triggering another wave of infections, especially in the home of the countrys political leadership.  So, while the cautious return of economic activity in Beijing has meant more road traffic and street life during the day, evening brings a return to the familiar quiet anxiety that has defined Chinas efforts to contain the virus.  After sunset, a majority of people avoid mingling or limit their interactions, and largely retreat to home. Retail stores follow reduced hours of operation, restaurants limit the number of people who can dine, and large gatherings are still banned. Residential areas have controls in place to restrict entry, and tighter quarantine rules require people returning to Beijing from other cities or countries to abide by a 14-day isolation period that is monitored and enforced.  Authorities are sensitive to so-called imported cases of the coronavirus with nearly 81,000 cases of COVID-19 in China and more than 3200 deaths, mostly in and around the city of Wuhan, in central Hubei province, where the outbreak first started. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A newspaper stand is seen closed during the usually busy evening rush hours in the central business district in Beijing, China. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Chen Mei’s family has not received any formal notice from the police – an officer said only that he was "co-operating with an investigation", his brother said.

The friends were volunteers with a project called Terminus2049, an open-source archive that keeps records of censored articles from Chinese media on coding platform Github.

Over the past few months the project has been making records of articles on the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

For a short time after the outbreak there was a window of openness for China's online media to report 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, found ways to share information.

This photo taken on April 15, 2020 shows a woman wearing a face mask as she offers prawns for sale at the Wuhan Baishazhou Market in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. - China's "wet" markets have gained a bad international reputation as the coronavirus roiling the world is believed to have been born in stalls selling live game in Wuhan late last year. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) / TO GO WITH Health-virus-China,SCENE by Jing Xuan Teng (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Many people believe coronavirus originated in Wuhan's 'wet markets' in late 2019. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

The articles gathered on Terminus2049 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, that went viral as people translated it in various forms including into Braille, Morse code and even Klingon in defiance of the censors.

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

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Last week it emerged that three-quarters of Britons blame the Chinese government for allowing coronavirus to spread to the UK.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove also appeared to lay the blame for the UK’s lack of mass testing for COVID-19 on China.

Some of China’s reports on the virus were unclear about the “scale, nature and infectiousness” of the disease, Gove told the BBC’s Andrew Marr at the end of March.

“It was the case … [that] the first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this,” Gove said.

US President Donald Trump gestures during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on April 24, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump has referred to coronavirus as 'the Chinese virus'. (Olivier Douliery / AFP)

Donald Trump has also blamed China for the pandemic, calling coronavirus the “Chinese virus”.

The American president denied his words were racist and said: “It comes from China, there’s nothing not to agree.”

In a series of tweets Trump said: “I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the ‘borders’ from China – against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved.”

He has also told his followers: “The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault! Will be stronger than ever!”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying retaliated and said: “It is absolutely WRONG and INAPPROPRIATE to call this the Chinese coronavirus.”

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