Cameron must make human rights a priority in meeting with Wen Jiabao

David Cameron must keep up the pressure on Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, over China’s appalling human rights record when they meet on Monday, Amnesty International said today.

The release of Ai Weiwei this week on bail was welcomed by Amnesty International, but the Chinese government has confirmed restrictions on Ai Weiwei's freedom of movement, and Ai Weiwei himself has confirmed that he is equally restricted as to what he is able to say. Given that he is also under a one-year probation period, he has not really been granted his liberty. Moreover, his associates are still subject to enforced disappearance.

The fact that the release came just ahead of a visit from the Chinese premier, to the UK and to Germany, both countries where the artist has strong professional ties and public support, underscores the political nature of his detention in the first place. Amnesty said that the move could be seen as a tokenistic gesture by a government who were keen to deflect mounting criticism.

Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International UK, said:

“Ai Weiwei is the best-known victim of a crackdown that has seen over 130 bloggers, lawyers and government critics detained, intimidated and silenced, since February this year.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg and David Cameron should ensure that the pressure on the Chinese government to improve their human rights record is maintained.

“The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the Chinese constitution and the people who have been targeted in this crackdown, had done nothing more than peacefully express an opinion which happened to be disagreeable to their government.

“They must be released immediately, and without conditions. Online calls for protests in China inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ have made the authorities nervous and impulsive. The ensuing onslaught of human rights abuses and disregard for due legal process, has been to their shame and David Cameron has a duty to raise the issue.

“He could start by asking about Wen Tao, Ai Weiwei’s assistant, who was taken into custody at the same time as Ai. No-one knows where he is, or what has happened to him.”

In November 2010, David Cameron visited China. At the time of that visit, Ai Weiwei had commented on the obligations of people in positions of power to talk publically about human rights. The artist had said:

“Many people are under house arrest during this prime minister’s visit. We are dealing with a country that has sacrificed a lot of human rights just for the growth of business and anybody who is dealing with China in business has an obligation to emphasise that, otherwise they are committing some kind of crime.”

Ai Weiwei was released on bail on Wednesday 22 June. His driver Zhang Jinsong - also his cousin - was released the following day.  Both appear to be subject to house arrest and are unable yet to discuss the conditions of their detention.   

Wen Tao  is one of three of Ai Weiwei’s associates who are still missing, presumed in secret detention. The Chinese authorities have refused to provide any information about the whereabouts of Wen Tao, Hu Mingfen and Liu Zhenggang since they went missing in early April, the same week that their employer and associate was detained without charge.   

The desperate families of the missing three even attempted to persuade police to open kidnapping investigations to locate them, after months of silence from the authorities.

Wen Tao was Ai Weiwei’s assistant, Hu Mingfen his accountant, and Liu Zhenggang a designer.  

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