China arrests activists who kept an archive of censored material on the government's coronavirus response

China arrests activists who kept an archive of censored material on the government's coronavirus response

China continues to attempt to cover up the way it covered up early news about the coronavirus. Earlier this month the government arrested three individuals connected to an unofficial archive of censored material known as Terminus2049. The archive included material critical of the government’s coronavirus response which Chinese censors had wiped off the internet. When the CCP couldn’t make the archive of damaging information disappear, it decided to make the people responsible disappear instead:

The trio – Cai Wei, his girlfriend, a woman surnamed Tang, and Chen Mei – were contributors to a crowd-sourced project known as Terminus2049 that began in 2018 and collected articles that had been removed from mainstream media outlets and social media.

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The three Beijing-based volunteers went missing on April 19, the source, who declined to give her name for fear of retaliation, told the South China Morning Post. Their families and friends then called the police, who initially denied knowledge of their whereabouts.

“About five days later, the families of Cai and Tang received official notices from the Chaoyang district bureau of the Beijing police,” the source said. “During the first few days they did not admit they took them.”

According to the notices, Cai and Tang were being kept under police surveillance at an unnamed location for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Why does the CCP care about the censored content? Because it shows that the government’s response was not as wonderful at they have claimed:

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, 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 Fen is a Wuhan doctor who, so far as we know, was the first person to notice that a new coronavirus similar to SARS was spreading rapidly in the city. She took a photo of some test results and posted them online where they were amplified by fellow doctor Li Wenliang. Both Dr. Li and Dr. Ai were reprimanded for spreading “rumors” and told to remain quiet about what they had seen. Dr. Li died from the virus on Feb. 6. Dr. Li remained silent until mid-March when she gave an interview to a Chinese magazine describing how she had been silenced.

Ai said she was told by superiors the day she sounded the alarm that Wuhan’s health commission had issued a directive that medical workers were not to disclose anything about the virus, or the disease it caused, to avoid sparking a panic. Soon after, the hospital reminded all staff that public disclosure related to the illness was forbidden.

Two days later, an official in charge of the hospital’s supervision department gave Ai a dressing down for “spreading rumours” – a reference to the photograph she had posted online.

She told the magazine, “If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have f**king talked about it to whoever, where ever I could.” But soon after the interview with Dr. Ai was published, it was removed from the internet by Chinese censors. Dr. Ai herself disappeared soon after and hasn’t been seen since. Radio Free Asia has more on what was being stored at Terminus2049:

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.

“Since the start of the coronavirus epidemic, the website has backed up a lot of official media reports that were deleted during the epidemic, as well as a large number of media articles,” he said.

Some articles had touched on genetic testing relating to the coronavirus, or other politically sensitive topics like the death toll in Wuhan’s nursing homes and the eviction of migrant workers from elsewhere in Hubei province.

“A lot of the content can be used to confirm the inconsistency of official narratives,” Yang said. “So the government thinks it is anti-government.”

Terminus2049 helped keep that interview, among other things, available. The CCP would much rather all trace of it disappear, hence the bogus charges used to punish the people responsible. China isn’t merely trying to get rid of one archive of embarrassing material, it’s trying to remind everyone that any opposition to the government will be punished.

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