China: Ai Weiwei detained as a warning against dissent

The detention of China’s most famous artist and political critic, Ai Weiwei, is a troubling development in a widening crackdown on dissent that has seen dozens of activists detained over the last few months, Amnesty International said today.  

Ai Weiwei is famed in the UK for his Sunflower Seeds exhibit, which was installed in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall late last year. The artwork consisted of 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds.

Police detained Ai Weiwei at Beijing airport on 2 April.  His wife and several members of his studio staff were also detained over the weekend.  

Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific, said:
“Ai Weiwei was not even involved in any call for ‘Jasmine’ protests. 

“There seems to be no reason whatsoever for his detention, other than that the authorities are trying to broadcast the message that China’s time for open dissent has come to an end.”

Since online calls for ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protests, inspired by people’s movements in the Middle East and North Africa, in China began circulating in late February, the Chinese authorities have rounded up dozens of activists, lawyers and bloggers.  

Donna Guest added:
“We've already seen the chilling effect the ‘Jasmine Revolution’-related arrests have had on Chinese activists and netizens over the past month. Holding Ai Weiwei takes this to another level

“If the authorities are so bold as to grab this world-renowned artist in broad daylight at Beijing airport, it’s frightening to think how they might treat other, lesser known dissidents.”

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