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Uttarakhand Imposes Curfew Till May 18; Not a Time to Worry About Profits, Says WHO, Supports TRIPS Waiver

Coronavirus News LIVE Updates: Uttarakhand has imposed a corona curfew till May 18 as the rising number of Covid-19 cases continue to be a cause of concern. With 37 deaths per lakh population, Uttarakhand has the highest COVID mortality rate among the Himalayan states and nationwide it ranks ninth, far ahead of much bigger states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, according to an analysis by an NGO. With 3,728 deaths due to COVID-19 so far in Uttarakhand which has a population of one crore, the number of deaths per lakh people in the state comes to 37 which places it ahead of all other Himalayan states including Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim where the ratio is 28 deaths per lakh population. Other Himalayan states like Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram have far lesser rates of 18, 11, 8, 7 , 4, and 2 COVID deaths per lakh population respectively, analysis of latest official data by city-based organisation Social Development for Communities Foundation said here on Monday.

When viewed on the national scale, Uttarakhand’s COVID death rate of 37 per lakh population places it in the ninth position in the country, far ahead of much bigger states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal which rank 27th and 20th respectively with 8 and 14 deaths per lakh population. Delhi, Goa and Puducherry have most deaths per lakh population, as per the analysis. Deaths of COVID-19 patients of 36 states and union territories as released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare forms the basis of this analysis, NGO chief Anoop Nautiyal said. Uttarakhand recorded its highest COVID-19 fatalities in a day on Sunday with 180 people succumbing to the virus across the state. “This is a mammoth number for a small state like ours. This dwarfs the earlier high of 151 deaths reported on May 6,” Nautiyal said.

Meanwhile, World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that the global health body strongly believes that Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver to Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should be done. In October last year, India and South Africa, along with 57 members of WTO proposed a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19.

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U.S. Olympians Rachel Garcia, Dejah Mulipola among 12 players selected in Athletes Unlimited softball draft

United States Olympian Rachel Garcia was one of the 12 players chosen in the first Athletes Unlimited softball draft on Monday night.

Garcia, a right-handed pitcher for UCLA, is a two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. She led the Bruins to the national title in 2019.

Three Arizona players were chosen — USA Olympic catcher Dejah Mulipola, infielder Jessie Harper and pitcher Alyssa Denham.

The players were not selected in a particular order.

Other draftees included Washington infielder Sis Bates, Oklahoma pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez, Oklahoma State pitcher Carrie Eberle, Texas outfielder Shannon Rhodes, Minnesota pitcher Amber Fiser, Louisiana-Lafayette outfielder Ciara Bryan, Iowa State infielder Sami Williams and LSU infielder Aliyah Andrews.

The athletes can accept the invitation and join contracted returnees and free agents to make up the league’s 60-player roster. Athletes Unlimited will crown an individual champion after games played at Parkway Bank Complex in Rosemont, Illinois, from Aug. 28 to Sept. 27.

“We could not be more excited to celebrate these amazing players and their accomplishments over their collegiate careers and hope that they all decide to join the Athletes Unlimited family,” said Gwen Svekis, a member of the Athletes Unlimited Softball Player Executive Committee.

The league will allow fans at full capacity this season. All 30 Athletes Unlimited softball games will broadcast or streamed around the world as part of a distribution package that includes CBS Sports Network, FOX Sports, FOX Deportes, Facebook and YouTube.

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Lex Greensill to be questioned over firm’s collapse and lobbying


Press Association 2021

David Cameron

David Cameron

Scandal-hit financier Lex Greensill will be questioned by MPs over the collapse of his firm and the lobbying controversy centred on former prime minister David Cameron.

MPs on the cross-party Treasury Committee will quiz the boss on Tuesday afternoon on the demise of Greensill Capital, which jeopardised 5,000 steelmaking jobs in the UK.

The committee’s inquiry is also investigating how Mr Cameron lobbied Chancellor Rishi Sunak over access to Government-backed coronavirus loans for Greensill.

Remembrance Sunday 2017
Mr Cameron will appear before the Commons committee on Thursday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ahead of his appearance, the MPs are expected to publish correspondence received from the subjects of the inquiry after they were issued with a series of questions.

Mr Cameron, who was employed as an adviser to Greensill after leaving Government, will appear before the Commons committee on Thursday.

A series of investigations is under way into the role the Conservative played in securing Whitehall access for Mr Greensill.

Among the demands, committee chairman Mel Stride requested a full timeline of contacts that Treasury officials and ministers had with Mr Cameron and other Greensill representatives

The senior Tory MP also asked Mr Cameron to share the full texts he sent the Chancellor, which the Treasury has declined to publish.

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US Congresswoman Urges Biden to Send More Direct Support to India

A US congresswoman has urged President Joe Biden to send more direct support to India which is battling an unprecedented second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congresswoman Haley Stevens, in a letter to Biden on Monday, said that India is now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This past week India registered over 400,000 daily cases. On May 4, there were 3,786 deaths, bringing the total to 226,188 fatalities. The sharp increase in cases has severely strained the healthcare system, overwhelming hospitals, and depleting oxygen supplies. India is in great need of oxygen, therapeutics, and vaccines, Stevens wrote. Asking the White House to increase shipments of oxygen cylinders, Remdesivir, Tocilizumab and ventilators to Indian hospitals, she thanked Biden for his support of more than USD 100 million to India.

“I urge you to provide the following items: Oxygen Cylinders, 10 liters and 45 liters Liquid Medical Oxygen Capacity; Oxygen Concentrator; Oxygen Generator Plants; Remdesivir; Tocilizumab, Ventilators/BiPAP,” she said. “As you continue to assess the situation in India, I urge you to consider fulfilling the additional needs outlined above. As long as COVID persists in India, there is the potential for additional variants that could pose a serious threat to a vaccinated America. We must do our part to quell the virus everywhere it persists,” Stevens added.

India has been severely affected by the unprecedented second wave of the coronavirus and hospitals in several states are reeling under the shortage of health workers, vaccines, oxygen, drugs and beds. After recording over four lakh fresh cases for four consecutive days, India witnessed a single-day rise of 3,66,161 COVID-19 cases on Monday, which pushed its tally to 2,26,62,575, according to the health ministry.

The death toll due to the viral disease climbed to 2,46,116 with 3,754 more people succumbing to it, the ministry’s data showed.

Read all the Latest News, Breaking News and Coronavirus News here

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Philadelphia Flyers offer free tickets, Gritty gear in push to vaccinate fans on-site before season finale

PHILADELPHIA — The Flyers let their fans take a shot and score COVID-19 immunity.

That’s the goal, anyway.

Philadelphia Flyers fans also scored free tickets for the 2021-22 season as part of a push to take the COVID-19 vaccine before Monday night’s game. The Flyers and Penn Medicine partnered to make the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine available to fans — with vouchers for two tickets to a game and Gritty stickers and T-shirts as an incentive — on the main concourse leading into the season finale against New Jersey.

The Flyers had a healthy line — likely much healthier in a few weeks — of fans waiting to get their shot. The Flyers are the only professional sports team in Pennsylvania and the only team in the NHL with a wide-ranging COVID-19 vaccination campaign, called “Take Your Shot.” Some teams have had their facilities used as vaccination hubs — the Eagles turned Lincoln Financial Field into a COVID-19 vaccination site for members of the autism community — and the Flyers hoped some fans would turn the corner and accept their shots once they arrived at Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers’ owners, Comcast Spectactor, said at least 75 fans had been vaccinated shortly after the game started. Wells Fargo Center operates at 20% capacity, which is 4,000 fans.

“We were looking for a partner in the community. They reached out to us, and we were eager and happy to do it,” said Patrick Brennan, Chief Medical Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Brennan said he’s suggested to Penn leadership a similar partnership with the Phillies, 76ers and Union, who have more games left in their seasons.

“Just looking at the age of the crowd, it’s a younger crowd, so they’ve only recently become eligible,” Brennan said. “I think we’ve seen people here tonight who seemed reticent, concerned. One of the things we’ve learned is that having the vaccine accessible to people in the community makes it easier. They’re here, they have some time before the game, why not take the shot?”

Mark Petry, a Flyers fan from the Delaware Valley, wore a Claude Giroux jersey and rested on the concourse after receiving his vaccine. He had already bought tickets to the final game and decided on site to get the shot.

“I was pretty stubborn to not get it,” he said. “My ways. How I am. It’s a stupid reason, which I admit, but I’m against the hype behind everything. Whatever the masses do, I want to do the opposite..”

So why get a shot today?

“Free Flyers tickets,” he said.

Hey, whatever works. The Flyers will need all the fans they can get taking the vaccine if they want 20,000 strong in October at the Wells Fargo Center.

“I think it’s a matter of vaccines, primarily, but it’s going to depend on how things go with the variants,” Brennan said. “If we don’t get enough people vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread and then it mutates, and then we have more variants and then we have more problems.”

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Death of paramedic leaves his family struggling to pay mortgage

A family has been devastated after their father tragically died while exercising at a gym.

NSW Ambulance Paramedic Steve Nguyen, 44, was working out interval training at a F45 gym when he had a heart attack, reports.

He was rushed to Liverpool Hospital and was placed on life support in the intensive care unit. Friends and co-workers of Steve’s wife Carpe, an ICU nurse, treated him but he died two weeks later after another cardiac arrest.

RELATED: Worrying truth about female heart attacks

Steve’s friend and co-worker Asaeli Williams, 35, told, the father of three’s heart attack was a shock.

“In the last 18 months, he (Steve) started getting on quite a health kick, he starting working out, stopped smoking, lost weight,” Asaeli said.

He told the news site that people suffering from cardiac arrests were generally ”much older than him or more unhealthy”.

“We would go to them (heart attacks) fairly often. If you look into people’s history there’s usually something there.”

Steve was an ambulance officer for 13 years, working at Fairfield station until its closure then Bankstown Superstation. He is survived by his wife and children – Chelsea, 18, Miranda, 15, and Winston, 12. His passing has left his wife to pay for their mortgage and support their family with half their income.

Asaeli started a GoFundMe page to help Steve’s family. Since its launch, the page has raised over $54,000 in seven days.

“His colleagues, both Paramedics and Emergency Department staff, always held Steve in high esteem, not only for his years of experience and knowledge but for his incredible sense of humour,” the page said.

“Steve always brought a smile to everyone when he entered a room. There wasn’t a bad job or brutal night shift that Steve couldn’t defuse with a well-timed joke and a sneaky smile.”

He was devoted to his children who he “adored and loved more than anything in the world”, it added.

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California expands drought emergency, covering 30% of population

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday expanded a drought emergency to a large swath of the nation’s most populous state while seeking more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending as one of the warmest, driest springs on record threatens another severe wildfire season across the American West.

The Democratic governor said he is acting amid “acute water supply shortages” in northern and central parts of California as he called again for voluntary conservation. Yet the state is in relatively better shape than it was when the last five-year drought ended in 2017, he said, as good habits have led to a 16% reduction in water usage.

His emergency declaration now includes 41 of 58 counties, covering 30% of California’s nearly 40 million people, and he said a further expansion is likely as conditions worsen. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the state and the American West is in extensive drought just a few years after California emerged from the last punishing multiyear dry spell.

“We’re staring down at what could be disastrous summer and fall, with the potential of communities running out water, and fires,” said Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Costa, who accompanied Newsom to the announcement made before a Central Valley reservoir with a deep bathtub ring of dry earth surrounded by browning grass.

Like most of the state’s extensive interconnected system of reservoirs and canals, the San Luis Reservoir is at less than 60% of its seasonal average as scarce winter rain and snow turns to a dry summer that Newsom said is imperiled by climate change.

Experts warn of potential drought this summer…


Officials fear an extraordinarily dry spring presages a wildfire season like last year, when flames burned a record 6,562 square miles.

“The hots are getting a lot hotter in this state, the dries are getting a lot drier,” Newsom said. “We have a conveyance system, a water system, that was designed for a world that no longer exists.”

That requires the state to envision “a much more resilient, a much more vibrant, much more dynamic water delivery system,” he said, noting that the one largely constructed in the last mid-century to carry water from Northern California to the south, “helped us build the world’s largest middle class” by enabling the state’s population and agricultural growth.

The governor is asking state lawmakers to approve what he said is a record $5.1 billion over four years for water projects, plus another $1 billion to help an estimated million Californians who are behind on their water bills in part because of the economic hardship of the pandemic.

His proposed water spending includes $1.3 billion for drinking water and wastewater systems and prioritizing smaller and poorer communities. Another $200 million would go to repair canals damaged when the ground beneath them sank as more groundwater was pulled from wells. Other projects would address groundwater cleanup, water recycling, fish and wildlife habitat, flood preparedness, weather forecasting and agricultural water use.

California's Current Drought Evident By Low Levels In Lake Oroville
Houseboats are dwarfed by the steep banks of Lake Oroville on April 27, 2021 in Oroville, California. Water levels at Lake Oroville have dropped to 42% of its 3,537,577 acre foot capacity.

/ Getty Images

His expanded drought emergency declaration includes the counties in the Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake watersheds across much of the northern and central parts of the state.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state’s water, was at just 59% of the average on April 1, when it is normally at its peak.

This year is unique because of extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May, Newsom said. That led to quick melting of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in the waterways that feed the Sacramento River, which in turn supplies much of the state’s summer water supply.

The problem was worse because much of the snow seeped into the ground instead of flowing into rivers and reservoirs, he said. The warmer temperatures also caused water users to draw more water more quickly than even in other drought years, he said, leaving reservoirs extremely low for farmers, fish and wildlife that depend on them. That all reduced the state’s water supplies by as much as what would supply up to 1 million households for a year, he said.

Newsom urged residents to limit their use, whether by limiting outdoor watering, checking for leaks, or taking shorter showers and turning off the water when washing dishes or brushing teeth.

California's Current Drought Evident By Low Levels In Lake Oroville
Low water levels are visible at Lake Oroville on April 27, 2021 in Oroville, California.

/ Getty Images

Senate Republicans blamed majority Democrats for not building more dams to increase water storage, with GOP leader Scott Wilk saying in a statement that the governor’s declaration “does nothing to remove regulatory roadblocks that hold up shovel-ready water projects.”

Newsom is spending the week previewing highlights of the revised budget he will present to state lawmakers Friday for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Earlier Monday in the San Francisco Bay Area, Newsom proposed tax rebates of up to $1,100 for millions of lower- and middle-income Californians, one leg of a pandemic recovery plan made possible by an eye-popping $76 billion budget surplus.

The barnstorming comes as Newsom faces a fall recall election driven in large part by frustration over his handling of the pandemic, though he noted that he also previewed his budget proposals in the past when he wasn’t facing a recall.

“This expanded #drought declaration should have happened weeks ago,” tweeted former Congressman Doug Ose, one of the Republicans who wants to replace Newsom. “Playing politics like this with people’s livelihoods doesn’t do anybody any good.”

The governor’s fellow Democrats, who control the Legislature, have until June 15 to pass a spending plan.

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Tiahleigh Palmer inquest to probe how she was murdered by Richard Thorburn

A coronial inquest will seek to trace the final moments of Tiahleigh Palmer and find a definitive cause of her death at the hands of her foster father.

Despite pleading guilty to the heinous murder in 2018, Richard Thorburn has never divulged how he killed the 12-year-old in October 2015.

At a pre-inquest hearing on Tuesday, Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley heard that when girl’s body was discovered in November 2015, it was so badly decomposed that the autopsy had failed to determine a cause of death.

The primary focus of the inquest, set to take place on June 8 and 9, will be to learn “anything else” including what actions Thorburn took to kill his foster daughter, how he disposed of her body and how Tiahleigh spent her “last moments”.

Thorburn is currently serving a life sentence for the murder and is not eligible for parole until September 2036.

Counsel assisting the inquest Kate McMahon gave a short opening statement while the court was shown a picture of the girl in a dance costume, supplied by her biological mother Cindy, who is currently overseas, but will return for the inquest.

Ms McMahon said that on the night of October 29, 2015 at 5.45pm, Tiahleigh was last seen alive by an independent witness and had been to a hip hop dance class, during which she complained of stomach pains.

That same evening, Thorburn’s youngest son Trent told his mother Julene Thorburn that on the previous Sunday he had had sex with Tiahleigh and was concerned she was pregnant.

“Shortly after, Mrs Thorburn told Mr Thorburn what she had been told. Some discussion ensued,” Ms McMahon said.

Ms McMahon said the foster parents feared the stomach pains Tiahleigh was experiencing “might be consistent with pregnancy” and could send their youngest son to jail.

“That night, there was a period of two hours (8pm – 10pm) where Richard and Tiahleigh were alone in the house together,” Ms McMahon said.

“When the family returned, they were told ‘she is no longer with us. I hope you know what that means. I have taken care of it’ and not to ask questions.

“During those two hours, he killed her.”

Tiahleigh was not reported missing until midday on October 30 when it was noted she had not been at school.

“Richard concocted a story about dropping her at school. (He then) helped police to search for her,” Ms McMahon said.

“That night, he disposed of her body.”

Her body was found on the edge of the Pimpama River by a group of fishermen six days after her death.

Ms McMahon said the people who loved her wanted answers.

The inquest will hear from Richard, Julene, Joshua and Trent Thorburn, as well as Detective Inspector Chris Knight who was the operations leader in the homicide investigation.


Oct. 30, 2015: Tiahleigh’s foster father Rick Thorburn says he dropped the 12-year-old at Marsden State High School. It was the last time she was seen alive.

Nov. 5, 2015: Three fishermen find a girl’s body on the banks of the Pimpama River on the Gold Coast. It’s later confirmed to be Tiahleigh.

Nov. 14, 2015: Tiahleigh is remembered as a “beautifully imperfect” girl at her Gold Coast funeral, where Thorburn was a pallbearer.

Feb. 15, 2016: Police offer a $250,000 reward for information to solve the schoolgirl’s murder.

March 14, 2016: Biological mother Cindy Palmer makes a public appeal to help find her daughter’s killer.

Sept 20, 2016: Rick Thorburn is charged with Tiahleigh’s murder. Foster mother Julene and their sons Trent and Joshua are also arrested. Trent is charged with incest, perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Julene and Joshua are charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Sept 21, 2016: Rick Thorburn fails to face court after a reported overdose.

Sept 23, 2016: Detectives say the foster family’s home is a primary crime scene.

June 28, 2017: Rick Thorburn is committed to stand trial for murder.

July 27, 2017: Josh Thorburn is sentenced to 15 months’ jail after admitting to perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Sept 14, 2017: Trent Thorburn is sentenced to four years’ jail after admitting he had sex with Tiahleigh.

Nov. 3, 2017: Julene Thorburn is sentenced to 18 months’ jail for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice, with the sentence suspended after six months.

Jan 19, 2018: Trent Thorburn is released on parole after 16 months behind bars.

Feb. 16, 2018: Rick Thorburn seeks a judge-only trial due to publicity surrounding the case.

May 25, 2018: Rick Thorburn is sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

June 8-9, 2021: A coronial inquest will seek to discover how Tiahleigh died.

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Twitter Donates USD 15 Mn for Covid-19 Relief in India

Microblogging giant Twitter has donated USD 15 million to help address the Covid-19 crisis in India which is battling the unprecedented second wave of the deadly pandemic. Twitter CEO Jack Patrick Dorsey on Monday tweeted that the amount has been donated to three non-governmental organisations Care, Aid India and Sewa International USA.

While CARE has been given USD 10 million, Aid India and Sewa International USA have received USD 2.5 million each. Sewa International is a Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, non-profit service organisation. This grant will support the procurement of lifesaving equipment such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators, BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) and CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines as part of Sewa International’s Help India Defeat COVID-19′ campaign, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement.

Equipment will be distributed to government hospitals and Covid-19 care centers and hospitals, it said. Reacting to the announcement, Sewa International’s vice president for Marketing and Fund Development Sandeep Khadkekar thanked Dorsey for his generous donation, saying it is gratifying that Sewa’s work has been recognised.

We are a volunteer-driven non-profit organisation, and we believe in serving all, following the sacred Hindu benediction, ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ — ‘May all be happy’, Khadkekar told PTI. Our administrative costs are about five per cent, meaning that every dollar a donor offers, we spend 95 cents of it on the work that it is earmarked for. In these past two weeks, we have seen how overwhelmed India’s healthcare system is, and we want to do as much as we can to come to the aid of people who are deeply affected. Twitter’s generosity will go a long way in helping us do the work we want to do, and that we need to do,” he said.

With this, Houston-headquartered Sewa USA has so far raised USD 17.5 million towards its India Covid-19 relief efforts. CARE is a leading humanitarian organisation fighting global poverty.

Twitter said the grant of USD 10 million will support CARE’s urgent action to help address the deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections devastating India. Funds will be used to supplement government efforts by setting up temporary COVID-19 care centers; providing oxygen, PPE kits and other critically needed emergency supplies for frontline health workers; and addressing vaccine hesitancy and helping ensure that people get vaccinated, particularly in remote, marginalised communities in India, it said.

Association for India’s Development (AID) is a volunteer movement promoting sustainable, equitable and just development. AID partners with grassroots organisations in India on interconnected areas of education, health, agriculture, livelihoods, environment, and human rights, Twitter said.

This grant will help under-resourced communities identify Covid symptoms, prevent spread, access care and treatment, benefit from medical equipment including oxygen, oximeters, thermometers, protective gear and vaccination, survive lockdowns, regain livelihoods and will strengthen hospitals and NGOs that serve rural and low-income communities, Twitter added. India has been severely affected by the unprecedented second wave of the coronavirus and hospitals in several states are reeling under the shortage of health workers, vaccines, oxygen, drugs and beds.

After recording over four lakh fresh cases for four consecutive days, India witnessed a single-day rise of 3,66,161 Covid-19 cases on Monday, which pushed its tally to 2,26,62,575, according to the health ministry. The death toll due to the viral disease climbed to 2,46,116 with 3,754 more people succumbing to it, the ministry’s data showed.

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2 face trial as China enforces online control amid pandemic

TAIPEI: More than a year after two amateur computer coders were taken by police from their Beijing homes, they are set to be tried on Tuesday (May 11) in a case that illustrates the Chinese government’s growing online censorship and heightened sensitivity to any deviation from the official narrative on its COVID-19 response.

Authorities have not said specifically why Chen Mei, 28, and Cai Wei, 27, were arrested in April last year, so friends and relatives can only guess.

They believe it was because the two men had set up an online archive to store articles deleted by censors and a related forum where users could skirt real-name registration requirements to chat anonymously.

Started in 2018, the archive kept hundreds of censored articles and the forum saw discussions on sensitive issues including the anti-government protests in Hong Kong and complaints about the ruling Communist Party.

But what got them in trouble with authorities appears to be archiving articles showing an alternative to China’s official narrative about its pandemic response just as the country started facing questions over its handling of the initial outbreak.

READ: WHO seeks next steps in COVID-19 origins probe

In keeping the censored articles and providing a place for them to be discussed, the two run afoul of increasingly strict regulations in an already stifling online environment under President Xi Jinping. Just last year hundreds were prosecuted for online speech.

Chen and Cai are being prosecuted under a catch-all charge of “stirring up trouble and picking quarrels”. Chen’s older brother, Chen Kun, said the court appointed lawyer notified family last week that their case would be heard on Tuesday.

In January last year, the two began archiving articles about a mysterious new illness circulating in Wuhan. For Cai, who is from the area and could not go home to see his family for the Chinese New Year holiday, the news was particularly upsetting.

“A lot of things happened in China then that made us very upset, and he may have been affected by that,” said his girlfriend, Tang Hongbo. She was also detained but released after 23 days when it became clear she did not know much about the project. “Every day we were looking at the Internet, and we were all in this tragic mindset.”

READ: Data withheld from WHO team probing COVID-19 origins in China: Tedros

Xi has made cyberspace governance a priority, and under his direction, the government created its own model to manage the challenges and opportunities of the Internet.

China eliminated online anonymity by requiring people to register under what is known as the real name system starting in 2016. Social media accounts are linked to a mobile phone number, which is tied to an individual’s national ID number.

A Chinese activist, using court and government records and media reports, tallied more than 750 prosecutions for web speech in 2020 in an online database and posted on a Twitter account named SpeechFreedomCN. He said he runs the database anonymously out of fear of retribution.

READ: China launches hotline for netizens to report ‘illegal’ history comments

A friend of Cai, who declined to be named out of fear of retribution, said Cai had grown frustrated with the censorship regime. In response, he and Chen launched the Terminus2049 archive and 2049bbs forum in 2018 as a “public platform of free exchange”, Cai wrote in a welcome post.

“It’s not just the ‘real name’ system – the deletions of posts, the bans, have reached a point that’s really shocking domestically,” Cai wrote in another 2018 post.

“When you have to worry about whether you have touched a sensitive keyword in any post you write, how can you really have the brave desire to express yourself?”

On the forum, Cai wrote about movies, music and books he liked. Others discussed more sensitive topics. It was a place to speak without worrying about having posts deleted or getting one’s account banned. It did not require a phone number to register, or even an email address.

COMMENTARY: Did Chinese censors just cancel Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland?

Chen was more low-key but similarly chafed against the censorship system.

“He wants information to flow. He wants quality information to flow freely,” said Chen Kun, his older brother. “We have this type of value deep in our bones, the independence of discourse on the Internet and the free transmission of information.”

Virus Outbreak China Censorship

Chen Mei poses for a photo in Hong Kong in 2018. (Photo: Family of Chen Mei via AP)

Cai and Chen met in 2011 at a summer camp hosted by Liren College, a socially conscious educational program. Both self-taught coders, they first started cooperating on a project to archive all the lectures and information from the summer camps, said a friend of both, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution. Authorities shut down Liren in 2014.

Terminus2049 primarily housed articles that had been deleted from Wechat and Weibo, popular social media platforms that are subject to regular algorithmic and human censorship. While similar databases existed, most were blocked in China. Terminus2049 was available on Github, a code sharing platform that is not blocked.

READ: China steps up online controls with new rule for bloggers

The topics the archived articles touched on were broad, but they shared a focus on social issues. One was concerned about the expulsion of migrant workers from Beijing after a fire, while another shared questions about a company that falsified data on rabies vaccines.

It was only after Cai and Chen got arrested that their families found out from friends and peers what the two had been working on. They suspect that pandemic-related content triggered the arrests, in part because in the weeks before and after their detention, police questioned acquaintances about what the two had done during the outbreak.

“They were told that Chen Mei has family members abroad, has provided foreign organisations with information about the pandemic and is basically handing a knife over to the enemy,” said Chen Kun, who now lives in France.

READ: China outlines COVID-origin findings, ahead of WHO report

Police in Beijing did not respond to a faxed request for comment and court-appointed lawyers did not respond to phone calls.

Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan also fell afoul of the law after reporting from Wuhan in the early days of the outbreak. She received a four-year sentence in December.

The 2049bbs forum, which never had major reach, is now blocked in China. Yet the discussions continue and the records of the forum live on in a site called 2047, set up by a self-described “person who walks the same path” and some members of the old forum.

Cai’s father, who has not seen his son in more than a year, still cannot understand how his son ran afoul of the authorities.

“He didn’t say anything bad. He didn’t try to organise some protests,” Cai Jianli said. “How did this become picking quarrels and stirring up trouble?”

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