Meet the fortune tellers

Chen Mei may have been an unlikely hero of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chen Mei

  • Chen Mei
    • What he did
      • Archived and republished articles on the early days of the coronavirus at Terminus 2049, including interviews with Ai Fen and Li Wenliang and a caixin investigation into the early days of the outbreak.
    • What happened
      • Arrested on April 19, 2020, charged with “engaging in disputes and provoking trouble”. He’s still waiting for the trial.

A shy but passionate zoology graduate, he worked for a nonprofit that helps people with hearing loss, according to his brother Chen Kun. He loved cats and held back online, said a friend who asked not to be named fearing punishment from authorities.

“He was never the initiator of projects – he always played the supporting role,” said Chen Kun.

But with Term 2049 he made an exception.

“Perhaps you need to be more careful about this,” recalls Chen Kun of his brother, reminding Chen Mei that if he could see his posts on Terminus 2049, so could others.

Even so, Chen Kun did not believe his brother would be arrested because what he was doing was relatively conservative compared to other activists. However, under China’s information control system, the rules are constantly changing.

Chen Qiushi

Source: Chen Qiushi / YouTube

  • Chen Qiushi
    • What he found
      • In late January, it was reported that Wuhan’s hospitals and doctors were overworked and lacking supplies.
    • What happened
      • Mom previously said he was forcibly quarantined. It is believed to be in Qingdao, China. Chen Qiushi’s friend Xu Xiaodong, a famous mixed martial arts fighter in China, said on a YouTube video that Chen had not been charged and was safe and sound but lived under government supervision.

Fang Bin

  • Fang Bin
    • What he found
      • Documented body bags are piled up outside a Wuhan hospital.
    • What happened
      • Was missing after a video was posted on February 9, 2020. Has not been heard since then, location unknown. You think you are imprisoned.

Li Zehua

  • Li Zehua
    • What he found
      • Dressed up as a candidate hoping to work in a Wuhan crematorium and spoke to the recruiter about what would be expected of him so that he could gather evidence of how many people had died. Revealed how State Security tried to silence citizen journalists like him.
    • What happened
      • Video posted on Feb.26, 2020 saying he was being followed by State Security before going missing. In April, he posted a video showing him being forced into quarantine and posted hidden camera footage showing that police came to his room and took him away.

Zhang Zhan

  • Zhang Zhan
    • What she found
      • Documented harsh realities of life in Wuhan between early February 2020 and mid-May, including overcrowded hospitals and empty shops.
    • What happened
      • Sentenced to four years in prison for “engaging in disputes and provoking trouble”.

Cai Wei

CNN courtesy of Chen Kun

  • Cai Wei
    • What he did
      • Archived and republished articles about the beginnings of the coronavirus at Terminus 2049, including interviews with Ai Fen and Li Wenliang and an investigation by Chinese media company Caixin into the beginnings of the outbreak.
    • What happened
      • Accused of “provoking disputes and anger”. He’s still waiting for the trial.

Ai Fen

Source: Wuhan Central Hospital

  • Ai Fen
    • What she did
      • One of the first doctors to try to set off the alarm for the spread of a new coronavirus in December 2019; Her interview with Chinese media prompted an online movement to fight against government censorship. Ai later became known as the “whistler”. As she told the media, she wasn’t the whistleblower, just the one who delivered the whistleblower.
    • What happened
      • Questioned by her hospital’s disciplinary committee and accused of spreading rumors. No known punishment, still appears to be working as a doctor in Wuhan.

Li Wenliang

  • Li Wenliang
    • What he did
      • Alerted colleagues about the spread of the new SARS-like virus in December 2019 gave media interviews about the early days of the January pandemic.
    • What happened
      • On January 3, 2020, he was called to a Wuhan police station where he was reprimanded for spreading rumors on the internet and asked to sign a statement acknowledging his offense. Tested positive for coronavirus on February 1, 2020 and died of coronavirus on February 7, 2020.

Zhang Yongzhen

  • Zhang Yongzhen
    • What he did
      • His team sequenced the genome and was the first to publish it publicly. The Chinese government released the genome the following day.
    • What happened
      • His laboratory was temporarily closed for rectification the day after the genome sequence information was published. He is still working to trace the origin of the coronavirus.

It is not always immediately clear where the red line stands for censorship, and because the rules are not static, some people venture into gray areas believing that what they are doing will be tolerated by the government. They hope that they will be lucky enough to avoid censorship and possible punishment.

“It’s really unclear what is legal and what is illegal,” said a friend of Chen Mei’s. “Why should archiving these articles be illegal?”

When Chen Kun received this fateful call from his brother’s boss on April 20, he was in Indonesia trying to avoid the pandemic. His brother Chen Mei had disappeared alongside Terminus 2049’s co-founder, Cai Wei, and Cai Wei’s girlfriend, he soon learned.

Chen Kun and Chen Mei.

A few days later, Cai Wei’s family received a phone call from the police informing them that Cai Wei had been arrested and was being monitored in an undisclosed location in a residential area. He has been suspected of engaging in disputes and provoking anger – charges commonly used to arrest activists in China. These allegations related to two things: creating a website on a foreign server and posting inappropriate comments online, said Cai Wei’s father, Cai Jianli. On the same day, Chen Mei called his boss and told him that he would be sick for a month.

In early May, Chen Mei’s parents received a courier notification from the police confirming their suspicions that their son was being monitored in a designated location, a system that allows people to be detained without charge for up to six months.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and State Council Information Office did not respond to requests for comment on the case status of Cai Wei and Chen Mei and fellow fortune tellers, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin. They did not confirm how many people were detained or prosecuted for sharing information about the pandemic. The Chinese Cyber ​​Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment on whether it is illegal to archive and republish Chinese news reports.

This is the arrest warrant for Chen Mei issued by the Beijing Public Security Bureau on June 12, 2020.

CNN courtesy of Chen Kun

Since September, Chen Kun has been living in self-imposed exile in Paris, where he is studying. He believes it is dangerous to return to China after speaking online about his brother’s disappearance.

Chen Kun had already been detained in Beijing for some time in 2014. He said he was arrested after his girlfriend posted posters in town to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy umbrella movement. The authorities believed he had ordered her to do this.

“It wasn’t my plan to study in Paris,” he said. “Without my brother, I would have returned to China after the pandemic.”

He is concerned about his remaining family in China, including his mother, who contacted the Chinese authorities to inquire about Chen Mei’s political activities, even though she was unaware.

“I’m worried, but I have no choice. I only have one way to express myself, ”says Chen Kun.

Chen Kun says if people can only see the Chinese government sponsored “whitewashed” version of the story, there is no way to learn from this current outbreak.

“Then what was this year’s sacrifice for?” he says.


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