Chinese activists Chen Mei and Cai Wei are facing criminal charges for publishing a number of articles online that were banned by Chinese Communist Party censors.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Sunday that the families of both men have received some ominous communications from Chinese authorities, including suspicious claims that both have been given state defense lawyers after applying for legal aid.
“It’s a clear attempt to keep the family’s hired lawyers from intervening,” said Chen Mei’s older brother Chen Kun. “We do not accept the officially appointed lawyers and we believe that this was a last resort for Chen Mei, under pressure and threat from the police. The decision does not represent what he really thinks.”
The two activists were arrested on China’s all-purpose oppressive charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in April and have been in detention ever since. Cai’s girlfriend was arrested with them and released in May, although she is also scheduled to go on trial.
The “crime” committed by Chen and Cai was running a crowdfunded project called “Terminus 2049” to use public Internet forums for publishing material the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not want any of its subjects to read.
Terminus 2049 began two years ago with banned #MeToo sexual harassment reports (which were blacklisted in China after too many high-ranking CCP officials were accused of harassment) and stories about abused migrant workers in Beijing, but its best-known work was republishing a banned interview with Dr. Ai Fen, the earliest whistleblower in the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
Chen and Cai’s arrest in April was cited by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as one of the CCP’s oppressive measures to control the political narrative around the coronavirus in a report published two weeks ago. CPJ noted with great disapproval that “even saving deleted articles has become a crime” in China.