04/06/2011, 00.00
CHINA

No response from Beijing to Ai Weiwei protests but arrests of dissidents continue

by Wang Zhicheng
Calls for his release mount, to the embarrassed silence of China. Meanwhile the persecution of dissidents continues. Experts say Beijing is showing it can arrest who it wants when it wants indifferent to international pressure.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Beijing is not responding to international calls for the immediate release of the artist Ai Weiwei and is trying to stop the spread of an on-line petition calling for support. Meanwhile, the persecution of dissidents continues.

There has been no official response to requests from, among others, the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain, the European Union and Australia for the immediate release of the artist, arrested by police on April 7 evening at Beijing airport on his way to Hong Kong. Since then he has disappeared, his wife, Lu Qing has had no news of his whereabouts. Only the state newspaper the Global Times today criticized Western governments for their intervention in matters of which they know nothing, and without first ascertaining the causes. Moreover, the newspaper gave no explanation, but delayed any analysis to “let history be the judge”.

Today saw the intervention of activist Zhao Lianhai , who defended the rights of sick children during the toxic milk scandal and was sentenced to prison on charges of causing social disorder. On his twitter site, Zhao has criticized the authorities for Ai’s unmotivated arrests and those of the hundreds of other dissidents detained since mid-February, and said that he and his family live under "severe pressure". Zhao is on conditional release for medical reasons and his statement is also significant given the high risk that because of it his freedom will be revoked.

Even the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's highest political body, in a rare comment on China’s internal politics called for "the Chinese side to immediately release Ai Weiwei and to give an adequate explanation of the episode”. Ai is known in Taiwan, where in November he held a solo exhibition.

On Twitter, hundreds of people signed a petition calling for the release of Ai, which was also blocked by Chinese censors.

Meanwhile, on April 5 the formal arrest of lawyer Shuangde Li was reported.  He was detained by police in Chengdu (Sichuan) March 21, accused of " credit card fraud ", as reported by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

On 1 April a court in Xi'an (Shaanxi) sentenced activists Gao Qiang and Wang Wuqin to 2 years and 15 months in prison for "social disorder", in addition to a fine of 60 thousand yuan in damages.  The two are in jail since March 2010 for having organized a  protest in their village to obtain compensation for land expropriated to build a brick factory, built by the secretary of the Communist Party of the village.

Nicholas Bequelin of the Human Rigths Watch believes that there is a qualitative leap in the repression, because the detention of a person of Ai’s stature "can only be done with the approval of some of the top leaders." This arrest means that no matter how important you are, the police may arrest you when they choose. "

Chen Ziming, sentenced to 13 years in prison as an organizer of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, said the government wants to get rid of all those who have been causing problems.

Even Urgen Tenzin, executive director of rights group Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, sees the arrest as "an example of the blatant human rights violations taking place in China." "This clearly shows – he says in an exclusive interview with AsiaNews - that human rights and freedom of speech do not exist for the powerful Chinese Communist Party." "China uses force to silence dissent, regardless of international opinion."

(Nirmala Carvalho collaborated)
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