Taipei, April 27, 2020 -- Chinese authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against the two media workers arrested for sharing censored news articles, and disclose if a third is in government custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 19, Beijing police arrested Cai Wei and his girlfriend, a woman surnamed Tang, whose full name was not released, according to news reports. Cai and Tang work as volunteers for Terminus2049, a webpage that collects and republishes news articles and social media posts that have been censored by the Chinese government, according to those reports.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau’s Chaoyang branch sent letters to Cai and Tang’s families on April 23 and 24, respectively, stating that the two had been charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and were being kept under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of extrajudicial detention, according to those reports and a report by the Southern Idiot Observation Group, a Chinese human rights group active on Facebook.
A third volunteer for the website, Chen Mei, went missing on April 19, according to those news reports. Chen’s brother posted on Twitter today that the family has not received any arrest notice or word of his whereabouts. CPJ called the Chaoyang branch of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, but an officer who answered said he had no information on Chen or the other two volunteers.
Terminus2049, which is hosted on the software website Github, began operating in 2018 and recently republished news articles critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to CPJ’s review of its content.
“China can’t change the facts of its bungled initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak and it must stop trying to cover it up,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler in Washington, D.C. “Authorities should free Cai Wei and Tang immediately and allow them to return to the important work of keeping the public informed. Authorities must also disclose if they are holding Chen Mei and, if so, must let him resume his work.”
The volunteers’ family and friends called the police after the three went missing, but were repeatedly told that they were not detained or the police had no information on their whereabouts, until Cai and Tang’s families received the Public Security Bureau’s letters, according to the Southern Idiot Observation Group.
China was the worst jailer of journalists in 2019, with at least 48 behind bars as of December 1, 2019, according to CPJ research.