‘Silencing the people is more dangerous than damming a river.’ It’s an old Chinese phrase that is aptly quoted by campaign group Human Rights in China (HRIC). But with the continued detention of artist Ai Weiwei, it seems like advice that the Chinese government is unwilling to heed.
Probably China’s most famous artist, Ai’s international renown and personal background – his father was Ai Qing, considered one of China’s greatest modern poets –meant many thought he was to some extent immune from this kind of ‘disappearing.’ He was, as I mentioned Monday, seriously injured after being beaten by police in 2009, while his Shanghai studio was dismantled earlier this year.
Still, the Chinese authorities’ willingness to take on such a high-profile figure in this way suggests a new determination to send a message to dissidents. And they’re not giving much away. The searching of his studio Sunday, and the reported seizing of 30 computers, suggests to some that a more conventional prosecution might be forthcoming, rather than the ‘detain and release’ tactics that have been used to deter some dissidents previously. But whatever officials’ plans, they have reportedly yet to advise Ai’s family what is going on. The Financial Times, meanwhile, reports that his family and friends have been warned about speaking with the media.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague joined other nations in echoing US criticism of Ai’s detention, issuing a statement sayingcallingon the Chinese government to ‘urgently clarify Ai’s situation and wellbeing.’
Interestingly in light of our feature today looking at the reasons why China decided to abstain rather than exercise its UN veto over US-backed military action in Libya, some have detected a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the United States to follow up on China’s crackdown. According to Rep. Randy Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, the Obamaadministration is ‘scared to death to speak out on very sensitive issues’that might offend China and turn them against US policy on Libya, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
Ai’s detention aside, HRIC notes of the recent Chinese crackdown that the authorities have: ‘used the crime “inciting subversion of state power” to convict or charge activists: Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌) was convicted and sentenced to 10 years; Ran Yunfei (冉云飞), Chen Wei (陈卫),and Ding Mao (丁矛) were charged. They have also criminally detained dozens of individuals and placed many more under house arrest. Additionally, the Chinese government, in violation of China’s criminal procedure law, has kept scores of individuals in custody for prolonged periods without charging them or even informing their families of their whereabouts.’