In my last post, I stated that China has the right to prosecute Ai for economic crimes if he’s committed them. And that’s certainly true. But it does gloss over the fact that Ai’s arrest probably had nothing to do with “economic crimes.” Reader Mitch sent me an email with some helpful links, which I’ll borrow here to illustrate the point.
When Ai was first arrested, no reason for his detention was announced. All we knew was that he had been taken away by police, and that on April 3rd, his art studio had been searched and his assistants were also detained.
Then, on April 6th, we got this from the Global Times, implying the reason for his arrest: “It was reported his departure procedures were incomplete.” The rest of the piece is full of negative language about Ai’s political views and activities. Guarded language, yes. But the Global Times is a State-run paper, and editorials on subjects like this one are definitely written only with the approval of high-level government figures.
Later that day comes the announcement that Ai is being investigated for “economic crimes.” (Note that there’s still no information about why they’re detaining Ai’s assistant, Wen Tao).
Then, on April 8th, the police finally conduct a thorough search of Ai’s finance office.
What’s important here is the timeline. If Ai is really being investigated for economic crimes, why did it take five days to tell us that? Why was it first suggested there was something wrong with his “departure procedures”? Why was his art studio searched days before his finance office, which is where the evidence of his economic crimes would presumably be?
There are other questions, too: Why is Wen Tao still being held? Why were the other assistants released? And what kind of questions were the assistants asked when they were being held? Were they questions about economics or about politics?
To me, the most poignant bit of evidence is that they took so long to search Ai’s finance office. It indicates either that the search for “economic crimes” is something that occurred to the police after they arrested him (most likely), or that the police inexplicably couldn’t get a warrant for the finance office until a week after the arrest (highly unlikely, since they got a warrant for his studio quite quickly), or that they’re just really incompetent (unlikely).
You have to wonder who they’re trying to fool with this….