Two men who posted revelations about the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in China face trial, charge with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
Chen Mei and Cai Wei were arrested in the Chinese capital Beijing on April 19, after publishing articles about the beginning of the pandemic online.
One of reports they published about the coronavirus was an interview with Wuhan doctor Ai Fen that was originally published by China’s Renwu (People) magazine.
Ai Fen, who was director of emergency medicine at Wuhan Central hospital, said she was disciplined in December last year after issuing a warning about of a Sars-like virus that appeared to be spreading in the Chinese city.
The interview was deleted from the Renwu site within hours of being uploaded.
“If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have f***ing talked about it to whoever, where ever I could,” she said in the interview.
The “provoking trouble” offence, routinely used by the Chinese government to silence dissidents, is deliberately vaguely defined.
Chen Kun, Chen Mei’s older brother, says that the pair have been appointed legal counsel by the government. He says that he doubts that they would have voluntarily applied for legal aid.
“It’s a clear attempt to keep the family’s hired lawyers from intervening,” he told the South China Morning Post.
“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,” he said.
“The decision does not represent what he really thinks.”
Chen Kun said he hoped the court-appointed the lawyers “will have a conscience and not aid and abet the evildoers”.
He said: “Otherwise I will prosecute them for their involvement in political persecution before all possible international bodies.”
Cai’s girlfriend, named in Chinese media reports as Tang, was arrested at the sam time as the two men, but released on May 10.
She is also awaiting trial, according to a source.
The Chinese authorities have been criticised for their response to the outbreak, and several whistle-blowers who tried to post warnings about the deadly disease have been silenced or arrested.