09/03/2011, 00.00
CHINA

In Beijing, migrant workers are treated like slaves, Ai Weiwei laments

Under house arrest, the well-known dissident publishes an article on the situation of migrants in Beijing, where they have no rights. In his piece, he criticises China’s justice system, mentions attempts to force him to emigrate.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “Every year millions [of migrant workers] come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses”. Here, they become “Beijing's slaves”, paid low wages and with almost no rights, writes renowned artist Ai Weiwei who breaks his silence in an article published by the US-based Newsweek magazine.

Ai was released by police in June after being held 81 days incommunicado. He was seized as part of a crackdown by Chinese police meant to stop the possible spread to China of the “Jasmine Revolution” that swept North Africa and the Arab world.

He is now under house arrest after being charged with tax evasion. However, he has not given up his fight for human rights and continues to slam China’s justice system, government and corruption problem. Above all, he is particularly incensed by the denial of migrant rights.

Migrants lack basic rights, including the right to decent housing, Ai notes. “They squat in illegal structures,” he writes, “which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts - and the restaurants and karaoke parlours and saunas are very rich as a result."

The dissident’s statement is important not only because of its content but also because under the terms of his house arrest, he cannot give interviews, meet foreigners, use the Internet or contact human rights lawyers.

In his piece, Ai alluded to his time in detention, saying "the worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system". People can vanish, and when families cry out for their missing loved ones, “You can't get answers from the street communities or officials, or even at the highest levels, the court or the police or the head of the nation."

Last but not least, he notes how strangers come up to him and pat him on the back, saying, “Weiwei, leave the nation, please” or "Live longer and watch them die.”

In the past, he had rejected the idea of leaving China, but now he is wondering whether he should. His choice is “Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really don't know what I'm going to do."
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