International outcry over Chinese artist's detention


THE DETENTION of China’s most famous artist Ai Weiwei has prompted an international outcry, with many countries and major organisations calling for the release of the outspoken government critic and highlighting the extent of Beijing’s crackdown on dissent.

There has been no word yet of Ai’s whereabouts. He was stopped by police on Sunday from boarding a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong and taken away. He looks certain to have joined the dozens of activists and lawyers detained by the government in the last few weeks.

Police have given his wife, Lu Qing, no explanation for his detention and no information on his whereabouts.

Ai (53), a stocky, bearded avant-garde artist and designer, who helped design the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is a committed opponent of single-party rule in China. Until now, it appeared that his international status and his position as the son of a legendary Communist poet, Ai Qing, had saved him from being detained, but it appears that in the current environment, this is not enough.

The Chinese government is keeping a lid on dissent as it fears contagion from the “Jasmine Revolutions” sweeping the Middle East, and also wants to keep China on an even keel ahead of next year’s transfer of power.

An online petition to “free Ai Weiwei” has been launched on Twitter and had nearly 2,000 signatories by yesterday evening.

His disappearance has drawn condemnation from western governments. A spokesman for the US state department, Mark Toner, said: “The detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens, including China’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Chinese government to release him immediately.”

In a statement issued in Beijing, the EU delegation to China mentioned Ai’s case and said it was “concerned” by the increasing use of arbitrary detention against human rights defenders, lawyers and activists in China.

“We call on the Chinese authorities to refrain from using arbitrary detention under any circumstances,” it said.