Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Chinese Defend Detention of Artist on Grounds of ‘Economic Crimes’ [New York Times]

So it’s official. Ai Weiwei has been detained. The New York Times article below reveals that he was detained for ‘economic crimes’, one they argue is ‘frequently used as a legal cover by police officers who wish to detain or imprison someone whom Communist Party officials consider a political threat.’  And here’s a response from the Global Times (6 April 2011)‘It is reckless collision against China’s basic political framework and ignorance of China’s judicial sovereignty to exaggerate a specific case in China and attack China with fierce comments before finding out the truth. The West’s behavior aims at disrupting the attention of Chinese society and attempts to modify the value system of the Chinese people.’

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Chinese Defend Detention of Artist on Grounds of ‘Economic Crimes’
Source: New York Times, published April 7, 2011

BEIJING — The investigation of the celebrity artist and social critic Ai Weiwei on suspicion of “economic crimes” is in keeping with “the rule of law” in China, a Chinese official said Thursday, defending Mr. Ai’s detention in the face of growing condemnation by foreign nations and liberal Chinese of the detention.

The catchall term “economic crimes” is frequently used as a legal cover by police officers who wish to detain or imprison someone whom Communist Party officials consider a political threat. Such crimes can include prosaic failures to properly comply with regulations on business registration or taxation.

As often happens in China when political troublemakers are involved, the exact crime Mr. Ai is being investigated for may be announced only at a later date, after the police have more time to look into his affairs and decide what crime to accuse him of committing.

“To my understanding, Ai Weiwei is suspected of economic crimes, and the Public Security Bureau is conducting an investigation according to law,” Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a regular news conference in Beijing. “China is a country under the rule of law, and relevant authorities will work according to law.”

Mr. Hong did not give further details, and he did not say why the authorities had yet to notify Mr. Ai’s family members of the detention. His remarks followed a cryptic one-line report that was posted on the Internet by Xinhua, the state news agency, around midnight that said the same thing. The report was deleted hours later from the Chinese and English Web sites of Xinhua, deepening the mystery around Mr. Ai’s detention.

The government has convicted citizens of financial fraud before when trying to silence them.

Mr. Ai’s mother, Gao Ying, 78, denounced the government line in a telephone interview, saying: “Economic crimes! They say one thing now and another later. It’s ridiculous.”

“They must tell the family why and where they are holding my son,” she added. “They have no right to keep us guessing. Where is the Constitution? Where is the law?”

Mr. Ai’s case is the most prominent one to pit the Communist Party against liberal Chinese and Western nations since that of Liu Xiaobo, the dissident writer who was sentenced to 11 years in prison here and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize last year. In response to calls by Western governments for China to release Mr. Ai immediately, Mr. Hong said Thursday, “Other countries have no right to interfere.”

Mr. Ai, 53, was detained at the Beijing airport on Sunday by border officers when he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong. The most well-known Chinese artist outside the country, he is a co-designer of the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium and has shown his work at the Tate Modern in London. He is also a harsh critic of the Chinese Communist Party. He had been presumed by many people to be somewhat shielded from retribution by the central security apparatus because of family connections. The order to detain him was almost certainly approved by someone at the top level of the government.

The detention of Mr. Ai comes during the biggest crackdown on progressive thought in many years, outside of the recent brutal suppression of ethnic dissent in western China. Scores of people have been detained or put under house arrest across China ever since Internet messages were posted in late February calling for protests across the country. No protests ever emerged, but the crackdown has angered and frustrated liberal Chinese.

Mr. Ai’s assistants were also detained and questioned in the last few days, and the police raided his home, taking away computers and money. One close associate, Wen Tao, a former reporter for Global Times, remains missing. Mr. Wen has been working on a documentary about the case of Qian Yunhui, a villager crushed by a truck last December; many Chinese on the Internet say they believe that Mr. Qian was killed by corrupt officials.

Mr. Ai’s detention has galvanized Chinese to denounce his captivity on microblogs and Web sites, and to circulate petitions demanding his release. One such person is Zhao Lianhai, who led a campaign for compensation in the wake of a tainted-milk scandal in 2008. Mr. Zhao was sentenced to two and a half years in prison last November for inciting social disorder, but he was released on parole shortly afterward.

Mia Lee contributed research.


Filed under: Ai Weiwei, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Democracy, Education, Environment, Human Rights, New York Times, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, Strategy

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