Two Chinese activists, who faced a stringent crackdown for reporting on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, are facing punishment after being tried in a Beijing court earlier this week.
According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), Cai Wei and Chen Mei, who pleaded guilty, archived censored articles about COVID-19 and ran an online discussion forum before they were detained in April 2020 and charged with "picking quarrels and provoking troubles".
These offenses are being increasingly used to punish a number of activists who contradicted the official narrative on the pandemic.
A verdict on the two activists will be announced later, according to their families. This comes after citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was jailed for four years in December last year for the same offence.
Only one member of each of the defendants' families was allowed to attend the trial due to COVID-19 restrictions. Chen's mother said that it was the first time she had seen her son since he was detained.
Supporters of the two men presented flowers to Wei and Cai's father, who was also present during the trial. Aoi (father) brought two bunches of camomile - representing freedom and justice - to give to Cai and Chen's relatives, SCMP reported.
Both Cai and Chen are friends who worked on a project called Terminus2049, which had been saving copies of censored news articles from China on GitHub, the world's largest open-source code-sharing platform since 2018.
They had archived about 600 articles, of which 100 related to COVID-19 before they were detained.
Chen's mother Wei said that the prosecution is describing some of the comments posted to the forum as false and insulting to China's leaders, which had a negative impact on the image of China and its leaders.
A sentence of one year and three months was recommended for the activists, and Wei said her son had told the family through his court-appointed lawyers that he would appeal if the verdict was significantly harsher than the recommendation.
SCMP reported that the detention and prosecution of the two men has drawn criticism from organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which called for their immediate release, along with other citizen journalists and ordinary internet users who have faced harsh punishment for documenting the outbreak of the virus.
At least a dozen people are known to have been prosecuted, detained or fined for not following the official narrative on the outbreak. (ANI)