Ai Weiwei attacks China over justice and human rights
  • Mon, 08/29/2011 - 12:00

Reuters, Monday 29 August 2011 12.04 BST

The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has launched a scathing attack on the Chinese government after his release from secretive detention in late June, accusing officials of denying citizens their basic rights.

In a strongly worded commentary published late on Sunday on the website of Newsweek magazine, Ai – whose detention prompted an international outcry – branded the capital, Beijing, as "a city of violence".

He criticised the government for rampant corruption, the judicial system and its policy on migrant workers, all issues that have inflamed social tensions in China.

Ai's commentary signals his growing impatience with the strict terms of his release from 81 days in captivity in late June. It also presents Beijing with a direct challenge on how to handle the country's most famous social critic.

"Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses … They are Beijing's slaves," Ai wrote. "They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts – and the restaurants and karaoke parlours and saunas are very rich as a result."

Under the conditions of Ai's release, he is not allowed to be interviewed by journalists, meet foreigners, use the internet or interact with human rights advocates for a year, a source familiar with Ai's detention told Reuters.

Despite this, the artist has spoken out on his Twitter account on behalf of detained dissidents and his associates who were also held during his incarceration. They have since been released.

"Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city … Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business," he wrote in Newsweek. "But they deny us basic rights."

When contacted by Reuters on Monday, Ai confirmed he had written the commentary, saying it was one based on his impressions of living in Beijing, adding that he did not know what the consequences, if any, would be.

He declined to elaborate, saying he was still restricted from speaking to journalists under the terms of his release.

The 54-year-old endured intense psychological pressure during his detention and still faces the threat of prison for alleged subversion, according to the source.

In the commentary, Ai alluded to his time in detention, saying "the worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system".

"My ordeal made me understand that on this fabric, there are many hidden spots where they put people without identity," Ai wrote. "Only your family is crying out that you're missing. But you can't get answers from the street communities or officials, or even at the highest levels, the court or the police or the head of the nation.

"My wife has been writing these kinds of petitions every day [while he was in custody], making phone calls to the police station every day. Where is my husband? Just tell me where my husband is. There is no paper, no information."

Ai's detention provoked an outcry from many western governments about China's tightening grip on dissent that started in February, when dozens of human rights activists and dissidents were detained and arrested.

The artist, famed for his work on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium in Beijing, was the most internationally well-known of those detained, and his family has repeatedly said he was targeted for his outspoken criticism of censorship and Communist party controls.

When Ai was released on bail, Beijing said he remained under investigation for suspicion of economic crimes, including tax evasion. Ai told Reuters earlier that he had not received a formal notice from the authorities to explain the allegation.

In the Newsweek article, Ai wrote that none of his art represents Beijing.

"The Bird's Nest – I never think about it," he wrote. "After the Olympics, the common folks don't talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people."

He wrote about the "secretive way" people came up to him in a park last week, giving him a thumbs up or patting him on the shoulder.

"No one is willing to speak out. What are they waiting for? They always tell me, 'Weiwei, leave the nation, please.' Or 'Live longer and watch them die,'" Ai wrote.

He previously had said he would never emigrate, but the latest article left that in question. "Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die," he wrote. "I really don't know what I'm going to do."