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2021-05-11 HKT 14:52
Two amateur computer coders pleaded guilty Tuesday to “stirring up trouble and picking quarrels" in a case that highlighted a growing Chinese government crackdown on online activity.
Chen Mei, 28, and Cai Wei, 27, created an online archive that stored articles that had been censored from the Chinese internet, and an accompanying forum that allowed people to discuss them anonymously.
In court, prosecutors zeroed in on 2049bbs, the forum accompanying the archive.
They said Cai was responsible for building a website that had insulted the government, and Chen had paid for it, Chen’s mother, Wei Xiuwen, told reporters outside the court.
Family and friends believe what got them in trouble was archiving articles showing an alternative to China’s official narrative about its coronavirus response just as the country started facing questions over its handling of the initial outbreak.
The case was tried at Wenyuhe People’s Court in the northeastern outskirts of Beijing.
The court said sentencing would come at a later date.
The charge “stirring up trouble and picking quarrels" is a catch-all charge often used for politically sensitive cases.
Chen’s mother, who traveled from northwestern Shaanxi province to attend the hearing, said her son wore a full-body medical protective suit and had his hands cuffed and feet shackled.
The only time her son spoke was to plead guilty, she said.
The two men have been held for more than a year since authorities detained them without warning in April 2020, along with Cai's girlfriend Tang Hongbo.
Tang was later released after it became clear she did not know about the others' work online.
Throughout the process, the families pressed for the two to have access to their own lawyers, but the court appointed lawyers for them instead.
Cai and Chen created the archive in 2018, keeping hundreds of censored articles.
The forum saw discussions on sensitive issues that could not be freely discussed on the Chinese internet including the anti-government protests in Hong Kong and complaints about the ruling Communist Party.
The forum and archive never had major reach, but the case has attracted the attention of a few.
One supporter waited outside the court Tuesday to give two bouquets of chamomile flowers to the parents.
The 25-year old, who declined to be named out of fear of repercussions, said she thought the two men had done a service for society during the pandemic by showing there was more than one official story. (AP)