The arrest on Sunday of China’s most famous artist, government critic Ai Weiwei, is the latest sign that the Chinese leadership is intent on stifling the kind of anti-government fervor that has been sweeping through the Arab world.
At least 26 Chinese activists have been detained following the outbreak of anti-government protests in Arab nations that sparked calls for anti-government demonstrations in China, human rights organizations told AFP.
More than 30 others have “disappeared” at the hands of authorities without charge. Among those missing are prominent attorneys and bloggers.
“Ever since the Jasmine Revolution erupted in Tunisia and then swept through North Africa and the Middle East, Chinese authorities have been engaged in their own sweep, corralling anyone who might harbor notions that a similar revolution could happen there,” the Toronto Sun reported.
The government once touted Ai as an emissary of Chinese culture to the world, and he even helped design the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But he fell out of favor when he began to criticize the government openly.
Ai was taken into custody at Beijing’s Capital Airport as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong. Shortly afterward, his Beijing studio was raided, and at least eight assistants were taken in for questioning.
The government on Sunday blocked a BBC television report about Ai’s detention, and Ai’s Twitter account went dead.
By early Monday, Ai had still not been heard from, the Star reported.
Ai was detained in 2009, when plainclothes police attacked him in his hotel room in an assault that led to emergency neurosurgery in Germany to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Before Ai’s latest detention, police in southwest China formally charged three veteran activists with “inciting subversion of state power,” rights groups told AFP.
Also, a law professor and two human rights lawyers disappeared in mid-February, Reuters reported. Another lawyer was savagely beaten before being taken into custody, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A researcher with the Hong-Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Wang Songlian, said: “This is the harshest crackdown we have seen in the past 15 years. Every day, someone is disappeared, taken away, detained, or charged.”
Wang told the Guardian in Britain: “The terror of this current crackdown is that it is very difficult to know whether you are going to be next.”
On Friday, a Chinese court sentenced leading Chinese dissident Liu Xianbin to 10 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” It was the second-longest sentence ever handed down for inciting subversion. The longest, 11 years, was given to Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Chinese authorities have intensified their crackdown on dissidents since February, “when online calls, inspired by the Arab unrest, urged people to gather weekly for ‘strolling’ demonstrations across China,” AFP disclosed.
“People were urged to protest over social issues such as inflation, corruption, and growing income disparity — a mix of problems that have contributed to the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.”
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