Tag Archives: Ai Weiwei

In Brief: Ai Weiwei Denied His Day in Court, Legal Advisor Disappeared

In news so depressingly predictable that it’s almost not worth writing about, Ai Weiwei’s legal advisor Liu Xiaoyuan is apparently being held by State Security after being summoned for a meeting at 8:30 PM last night. Although Ai Weiwei’s Fake Studio tax appeal case opens in court today, Liu Xiaoyuan has not yet returned, and his phone is turned off. Ai has also been informed by police that he is not allowed in court.

Honestly, I am running out of things to say when this sort of thing happens. It’s a move as obvious as it is depressing, and it’s indication number 9,343,245 that however fast China’s economy is developing, the real rule of law is still a terribly long way off. One wonders how government spokesmen manage to choke out the words, “China is a nation with the rule of law,” even as this sort of “justice” is being served.

I also wonder what, exactly, Beijing is doing here. They clearly have no intention of giving Ai his day in court, and they can’t possibly think that anyone outside China will consider whatever verdict they reach fair when Ai’s principal lawyer was essentially kidnapped the night before his court date. So why not just arrest him and be done with it? Or hand him a summons informing him the court has found him guilty of tax evasion in absentia or something. I understand someone probably feels the government needs to make a show of doing this the right way, but security forces obviously don’t agree.

If you’re going to put on a dog-and-pony show to try to fool people into believing China has the rule of law, it’s best to at least allow the occasional dog or pony into the building, isn’t it?

Troubling Legal Reforms

via Yahoo NewsFirst off, apologies for the recent relative silence of this blog. I’ve been busy with a number of other things (including moving to a new apartment). At least one of those things will be appearing here quite soon, I hope, but in the interim, you’ll have to excuse the delays.

Anyway, if you’ve been following the news you’re probably already aware that proposed revisions to China’s criminal law code are currently making the rounds for public comment, as is customary prior to the revisions being ultimately approved (or not). These revisions have caused quite a stir because among them is a clause that would allow police to detain persons suspected of terrorism or endangering state security ((a crime many dissidents are accused of)) for long periods of time in secret locations and without informing their family members. Siweiluozi has been covering this issue particularly well, and I suggest reading his blog and also following his Twitter, which often contains commentary on the proposed laws from famous Chinese lawyers.

Anyway, the full text of the revisions is available here, but we’ve translated the relevant segment, which is from article 30, below (emphasis added):

Residential surveillance ((i.e., house arrest)) should be carried out at the residence of the accused criminal suspect; those without a fixed residence can be held at specified location. As for those suspected of harming state security, terrorist activities, or major corruption, carrying out residential surveillance in their residence could pose obstacles to investigation, [so if it is approved by] the immediately superior people’s procuratorate or the public security organ, the residential surveillance can be carried out at an appointed location. However, the appointed place does not need to be a detention center or a designated case center [专门的办案场所].”

The family members of the person being held should be notified of the location and reasons for the detainee’s detention at a designated location for residential surveillance within 24 hours of the detention being carried out, except in cases where notification is impossible or the detainee is suspected of involvement in harming state security or terrorist activities, or if informing them could impede investigations.

Now, I am not a legal expert, nor am I a legal translator, but I’m fairly confident that even if I haven’t translated this as precisely as a professional might, I’ve gotten the general idea correct. And it should be pretty clear why people are concerned about these revisions; clearly, they allow the PSB to summarily detain anyone at an undisclosed location for an unlimited period of time, so long as that person is suspected of harming state security.

There is no indication of what evidence (if any) is required, and no clarification whatsoever as to what it takes to label someone as “suspected” of harming state security. There is also no stated time limit for the deteintion of these suspects or the informing of their family members. And most concerning, to get approval to do this, the police must either get approval from the people’s procuratorate or from “the public security organ” — in other words, from themselves. It appears that a local PSB official of sufficient rank could in essence summarily detain anyone, anywhere, for any period of time, for doing anything, so long as the police official “suspected” they were involved in harming state security and/or terrorism.

The good news is that the revisions are attracting attention. Officially, over 40,000 opinions have already been submitted, and discussions are taking place everywhere from newspapers to Sina Weibo. Here’s hoping the NPC is listening to what people are saying.

Given that, I was interested when Tom Lasseter pointed out that the Global Times has addressed this issue:

One article of the amendment is interpreted as both progress and regression in China’s legal system, depending on how you look at the issue.

The amendment stipulates “under special conditions, suspects can be held under surveillance without their families being notified within 24 hours.” The special conditions include: notification being impossible, crimes concerning national security, severe law violation involving terrorism activity and if notification may hinder an investigation.

These special conditions have triggered outcry that it leaves room for secret detention, and has caused concern in media outlets, such as the New York Times, that “more Chinese dissidents appear to disappear.”

But if one reads it from another perspective, the article has actually been written into the Criminal Procedure Law for 32-years, and the amendment is trying to clarify the special conditions and limit the circumstances of detention without proper notification of the family.

Law articles can’t be black and white. There are cases that have to be decided differently. For example, the detention of a corrupt official may conform to the special conditions of withholding information in order to prevent the fleeing of others involved. Conspirators may be kept from communicating when nabbing a terrorist network.

There are worries of overuse or improper use of these special conditions. These are legitimate concerns. But the way to prevent misuse is through further improvement and clarification, not by completely denying it. With the legal consciousness of the public on the rise, plus scorching media scrutiny, law enforcement procedures are under mounting pressures that force police to reduce abuses of power.

China’s legal system has much to improve, but the country is also not under the dark days of the Middle Ages. Law is meant to protect the majority of people, not only a few who speak loudly.

As I understand it, these laws were last revised 14 years ago. Are those of us who are concerned by this development meant to wait another 14 years in the hope that this law will be further revised? That’s nonsense. Regardless of what you think of the law, it it needs “further improvement and clarification,” why wait? And if it doesn’t, why bother saying that at all?

Of course, disputing the logic of a Global Times editorial is sort of like taking candy from a box labeled “free candy — please take.” So I’ll just leave it at this: I find this suggested revision very disturbing, and in fact would say it appears to be an attempt to legitimize and legalize the “disappearing” of “dissidents” like Ai Weiwei and Gao Zhisheng. Under the current laws, his disappearance was possible because of a loophole in the legal code, which they are now proposing be written into law.

Passing this revision would be a step backward in China’s march — perhaps glacial crawl is actually a better term — towards embracing human rights as meaning something beyond GDP growth. Other nations, including the United States, have similar provisions for terror suspects, and they are equally reprehensible. Whatever crimes a person may have committed, they should not be subject to extended or arbitrary detention before they are convicted, and their family — who have committed no crime — should at the very least be allowed to know their whereabouts.

Thoughts on Ai Weiwei’s Release: This is Not a “Victory”

ai weiwei is "free"So Ai Weiwei has been released, sort of. From early reports on Twitter, it seems as though at least some of his staff that had been detained have been released, too (is there any word on Wen, though?). Ai isn’t entirely off the hook, though, he’s out on bail. Or, more specifically:

The news that Ai Weiwei (艾未未) has been released on qubao houshen (取保候审,literally ‘obtaining a guarantee pending trial’, but commonly referred to in English as ‘bail’ despite substantial conceptual and procedural differences) , is excellent news and perhaps the very best outcome that could have been expected in the circumstances of this difficult case.

Qubao houshen (QBHS) is a technique that the public security authorities sometimes use as a face-saving device to end controversial cases that are unwise or unnecessary for them to prosecute. Often in such cases a compromise has been reached in negotiation with the suspect, as apparently it has been here. Of course, we will have to hear what Ai says upon release, recognizing that, as part of the agreement and as a consequence of long incommunicado detention, the released suspect is usually subdued in any public remarks made upon release (recall Xu Zhiyong, for example).

Concretely, QBHS usually means that the investigation can continue for up to one year while the suspect is allowed to have freedom of movement, if not freedom of speech, within his city of residence. His travel documents are usually kept by the police and he must seek their permission to travel elsewhere in China and certainly abroad. Often during the subsequent year in such cases, the investigation is quietly dropped so long as the suspect behaves himself in accordance with whatever deal was struck and nothing occurs to mar the agreement.

It is important to remember that, although the announcement claims Ai has “confessed his crimes”, no formal charge has ever been made against him; he was apparently not even formally arrested” (逮捕), not to mention indicted (起诉). Ai has thus not had to plead guilty to any crimes, although the term “renzui” (认罪), or admitting guilt, has been used in the press report. He can end the tax obligations by payment with interest, and perhaps a fine, as the press report says he is willing to do.

Interesting stuff. Before we move on to the inevitable question of why he was released (and why now), a few thoughts about the tax evasion charges. First of all, as far as I am aware, Ai has not told anyone other than the police that he’s admitting any sort of guilt, so I would take what Chinese media reports say about his confession with a huge grain of salt until he’s said something himself (which it sounds like he won’t, at least for the next year or so) or until some hard evidence is produced (don’t hold your breath).

As I said in a previous post, Ai was detained on April 3rd, and his studio was searched. Police didn’t return to search his accounting office until five days later, so it’s pretty clear that taxes didn’t have anything to do with the motivation for his arrest.

And while I have no idea whether or not Ai actually did evade taxes — just because they arrested him for obvious political reasons doesn’t mean he didn’t cheat on his taxes — you have to laugh at the idea of detaining someone for over two months for tax evasion in a country where only 2% of the population files income tax forms at all. Granted, a significant percentage of the country is too poor to be required to pay income taxes, but it’s undeniable that the vast majority of people who ought to pay taxes don’t. Without going into too much detail — and I’d like to note here that I do pay Chinese income taxes now — it’s perhaps worth noting that personally, I have had previous employers in high government positions who paid me (and all their other employees) in cash, under-the-table and tax-free. This is very common.

Still, who knows what taxes Ai evaded, or didn’t. He’s not yet saying — probably, he’s not allowed to say — and I highly doubt the government will ever produce any public evidence of anything, so it’s really not worth discussing in any detail. Let’s move on to the question of why Ai was detained.

There are already a number of theories about this in play. For example, there’s the official story:

The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.

The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded, police said.

The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said.

So there’s that. Then there’s the “Wen goes to Europe” theory, which says that Ai was released ahead of Premier Wen Jiabao’s upcoming trip to Europe, presumably to assure that Wen didn’t have to spend several hours in every country he visits hearing the same “Free Ai Weiwei” message over and over again. Still, for such a high profile arrest, this seems like a rather small reason to release him, no?

More popular — probably most popular right now, at least in the West — is the we-did-it self-congratulatory theory. The idea is that China caved to international pressure on Ai after deciding he wasn’t worth the loss of face and international trouble that Ai’s continued detention was causing. The most convincing example of this theory is Jerome Cohen’s explanation, which also factors in Ai’s own personal connections and his family’s status in China:

The decision to grant [“bail” to Ai Weiwei] has little to do with the rule of law, but everything to do with the untrammeled exercise of discretion enjoyed by Chinese authorities. This outcome makes clear that great international public pressure plus significant domestic and personal guanxi (关系, connections) can be a potent combination even in the case of someone who went further than anyone before him in openly thumbing his nose (and other body parts) at the Communist regime. Undoubtedly, Ai’s star talent, his family history and global support from the artistic community helped a lot.

Then, of course, there’s the self-important, batshit crazy version of the theory, as evidenced in this ridiculous press release from Change.org in which they take sole credit for Ai’s release. I’ll give you a second to read that, and then a few minutes to stop laughing. Are they sure the Chinese hackers attacked their site because of the Ai petition, and not just because they’re a bunch of pompous jackasses?

Seriously….”victory!”??? I know that’s a change.org thing, but Ai is out pending further investigation. He’s apparently not allowed to speak freely, and probably not allowed to travel freely. Dozens — probably hundreds — of other dissidents, including many from the wave of arrests that Ai caught the tail end of, are still in prison. And there’s no real reason to believe Change.org had anything to do with Ai’s release anyway. So yeah, maybe put that champagne away, guys.

All that aside, I think there’s another theory worth considering here that I haven’t seen espoused anywhere else. Ai’s release, coupled with restrictions that prevent him from giving interviews, talking about politics, or leaving the country, could actually be a fairly brilliant propaganda coup for China. Having Ai free but quiet takes the wind out of the sails of his domestic supporters, and will probably help disintegrate and fracture the dissident community that was essentially built around Ai’s twitter feed. Meanwhile, it also shuts up the international community, who will be too busy patting themselves on the backs (see above) to notice that (a) Ai isn’t allowed to speak or travel freely and (b) there are many, many other dissidents still in prison or being detained for political reasons.

Ai’s release might also be seen as an attempt by the government to gain some control over, or at least temporarily distract from, what seems to be a spiraling mass of stories with much more serious implications: slowing economic growth coupled with rising inflation, embarrassing reports of corruption and hamfisted suppression of everything from independent candidates for China’s eunich legislature to the shuttering of the newly-popularindependent corruption-reporting sites, power shortages, catastrophic flooding, protests, bombings, riots….yeah, I think it’s safe to say that “Fat artists kinda gets out of prison” is a preferable front-page story from the government’s perspective.

In actuality, it’s way too early to be sure how this will play out, or whether or not the restrictions placed on Mr. Ai will be as severe as I have suggested above. In the interim, let’s not forget that even if Ai is 100% free, he was only one of many, many imprisoned dissidents. There is no real victory here, not yet.

(That said, I am very happy to hear that he is safe and with his family, and I hope that things go better than I have suggested they might).

Liu Xiaoyuan on Residential Surveillance and its Pitfalls

In light of the ongoing disappearances and reappearances of lawyers, intellectuals and activists the legality [or lack thereof] of house arrest repeatedly came up in the news coverage, although not much explanation was given on one of the Chinese governments more peculiar measures in dealing with its subjects. Just as I was wondering where I could find further information I stumbled over a series of posts on Liu Xiaoyuan’s blog, who went into great detail to discuss what it’s all about. Obviously he had gotten a whole bunch of emails from people for whom the legal intricacies of house arrest or—in proper terminology—residential surveillance were equally hazy.

I guess most of these requests were related to Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts (as he is also believed to be under RS),considering that Liu might take over his defense. ((Unless he disappears into said legal limbo himself that is.)) For two interesting posts on the legality of Ai’s situation, albeit from opposite perspectives, check here and here.

In the first post Liu gives a detailed overview of the relevant laws and regulations, in the second post (translated below) he discusses legal ambiguities and cases of abuse of RS. In the third post (which I’ll try and post soon), he argues for an abolition of said measure due to the widespread problems arising in its implementation.

Translation

A further discussion of residential surveillance

Posted on May 26, 2011 by Liu Xiaoyuan

Residential surveillance is defined as a coercive measure that can be imposed on a suspect by the People’s Courts, the People’s Procuratorate and public security organs. In accordance with the Criminal Procedure Law a suspect can be ordered not to leave his home or designated residence for a certain amount of time, during which his actions can be monitored and his personal freedom restricted.

But to what extent can the personal freedom of a person under RS be restricted? How big a range of movement or action should people under RS still be entitled to? In regard to these questions the relevant laws and regulations, the interpretations by the judicature as well as further regulations by different departments [involved in its execution] are far from clear.

Article 57 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that criminal suspects or defendants under residential surveillance should not leave their domicile [or home residence] without permission of the executing organ, or, if the person in question has no fixed domicile, not to leave a designated residence without prior permission. Thus, without obtaining prior permission stating otherwise, their freedom of movement is limited to those places.

But it is not further elaborated what a home or designated residence exactly is.

Article 98 of the “Provisions on the Procedures for Handling Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs” defines the home residence as the legitimate residence the suspect holds in the city or county where the case is handled. The designated residence is defined as the residence a suspect is appointed, due to case-specific circumstances, by the PSB in the city or county where the case is handled. The police is not allowed to set up a special place for residential surveillance, in order to avoid that the suspect is actually put under a disguised form of detention. Furthermore, it can not be carried out in detention facilities or any kind of designated PSB work place.

But these explanations also lack clarity.

If a suspect under RS has an apartment in a residential compound, should his movements be restricted only to his apartment or should the residential compound be included? In other words, can he exit the door of his apartment and move around in his compound? The same question can be asked in regard to an assigned place of residence.

One reading of the law is, that “home residence” in rural areas should be understood as the entire village in which the home of the person in question is located or, in cities, should be interpreted as the entire compound surrounding the house. The assigned place of residence should be understood as the house or courtyard in which the living quarters are located.

Another interpretation is that while the requirements of an ongoing investigation and trial have to be met in order to guarantee that further steps can be executed swiftly, consideration should also be paid to enabling a suspect to lead a regular life and resume his work or study, when he is not demanded in court.

In my personal opinion, [the definition of] home or assigned residence should not be interpreted in a narrow and limiting sense. A person under RS can hardly remain in the confinement of his living quarters all day, without ever leaving the apartment. There should be some space and range for movement. Because if a suspect’s or defendant’s range of movement is limited to residential quarters alone, then he is de facto deprived of his personal freedom.

The longest duration of RS allowed by law is six months. If the suspect isn’t even allowed to step out of the door in such a long period of time, the severity of this measure would be so grave that there is virtually no difference to official custody or detention. The original intent of the RS legislation was to define a coercive measure that would only partially restrict a suspect’s or defendant’s personal freedom, and not another form of detention or arrest.

When put into practice, a multitude of problems arise:

1. Abuse of the measure as intended by law. The boundaries, subjects and conditions of RS are clearly defined, but some investigative organs severely breach the relevant laws and regulations in its implementation. This has for example happened in cases where the prosecution has decided against raising charges and authorizing an arrest, but instead of dropping the proceedings, as it should be done, the persons in question were subjected to RS. In other cases the relevant departments used RS as an alternative to conducting a proper investigation and thus put people in RS who shouldn’t be subjected to this coercive measure under the legal framework. In some cases RS was used as a means of resolving cases in which civil disputes had led to minor injuries. In all these particular cases RS was used due to intervention or under influence from forces outside the legal institutions, leading to a much higher amount of RS cases than would have been allowed by law.

2. RS is executed in locations that are in breach of the law and regulations. In these cases the suspect or defendant is subjected to a disguised form of detention, as intended for a criminal offense. Article 57 of the Criminal Procedure Law defines the locations where RS can be implemented as the home residence of a suspect or defendant or —if this is not possible— as a designated residence. But some of the departments entrusted with carrying out RS used some form of hotel, hostel, guesthouse or basement accommodation instead. In other cases the suspects where held at places meant for handling cases and carrying out administrative detention as well as property of security companies. In addition, some of the investigative organs denied the person under RS any direct contact with other people and even installed surveillance technology to keep constant watch. Others ordered that even people also living in the residence and appointed lawyers needed to obtain permission to gain access.

In cases where the suspects or defendants did not have a place of residence or their home residence was relatively far away from the place the case is handled, the investigative organs routinely put people in preinstalled “surveillance houses.” But bringing a suspect to a fixed location for the purpose of carrying out surveillance is nothing but taking someone into custody or putting him in detention. If the place where RS in carried out is illegal, resulting in a situation of disguised detention, it constitutes a serious violation of a suspects human rights.

3. The choice of the executing organ is illegal. Article 51 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that RS has to be carried out by public security organs. But PSBs, in whose jurisdiction the suspect or defendant falls, often hand the implementation out to “hired cops” or local public security defense forces, due to a lack of resources or other reasons. Situations where the number of PSB personnel is not sufficient and additional manpower is contracted from the civil sector certainly exist. Furthermore, some investigative organs authorize other departments or subordinate private security companies entirely with the implementation. Others hand the management of RS into the hands of local village committees and thereby turn [the legal intend of] RS into a mere formality. Because all these actors haven’t obtained the formal approval by the relevant body responsible for law enforcement, they don’t have the legal power to carry out RS and thus their actions are illegal.

In Brief: On “Gutsy” Protest

This may be pretty much definitely is the nit-pickiest ChinaGeeks post ever, but something about this article just irks me.

It has nothing to do with the artist, or the protest itself. I think this is really quite clever; it manages to make a very clear point writ large without any kind of property damage. Moreover, readers of this blog know that I support Ai Weiwei’s release and consider his imprisonment a sham even though I don’t agree with everything he’s said and done with in the past.

My issue with the piece, really, is right here:

“It’s incredibly gutsy for Pavon to have gone right to the source to protest so directly.”

Come again? In what way is this “gutsy”? Doesn’t gutsy imply some kind of risk or bravery. I applaud that Pavon stood up for Ai Weiwei, but come on, what is he really risking here. At worst, his crime is projecting unwanted light onto the side of the Chinese embassy, and I doubt he faced any repercussions beyond a New York cop telling him to knock it off and move along.

Again, I know this has nothing to do with Pavon himself, who I doubt would call this piece of protest art gutsy. But I’ve seen rhetoric like this in a couple other places too, and I think it’s time to stop fooling ourselves. Honestly, if you’re just some random Westerner, protesting Ai Weiwei outside China isn’t brave. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, but let’s be serious: what possible repercussions could you face? I’ve made a list:

  • Nothing
  • Blacklisted from being granted Chinese visa

Of those two things, the second is pretty unlikely, as it requires the Chinese government to care enough about your protest to spend time digging up your info and relaying it to the relevant departments of government that would need it. Most Ai Weiwei protesters abroad will probably find themselves sufferers of the first consequence on the list, though.

Which is fine. You don’t need to come to China and get arrested to make a point, and in fact, doing that would be kind of dumb. But let’s recognize that, especially when compared to the many Chinese people who have seriously risked their freedom by showing support for Ai Weiwei, these foreign protesters and supporters may be right, but they’re not really all that gutsy.

In Brief: Ai Weiwei’s Mainstream Appeal

People on both sides of the “aisle” — which is starting to feel more like a chasm than an aisle, by the way — have, for different reasons, long suggested that Ai Weiwei’s mainstream appeal in China is limited. Moreover, some have suggested that Ai’s profile is too low for many people to care that he’s arrested.

But this morning, I noticed something quite shocking. The Chinese phrase “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” was the 8th most-searched term on Baidu’s hot topics list. See the photo below, courtesy of @goldkorn who had the good sense to grab a screenshot before it was deleted.

Baidu's top searches as of around 10 A.M. this morning

Now, first it’s important to establish what the Baidu hot topics list actually is. It’s essentially a real time list of the hottest search terms with time-sensitive relevance. So, Ai Weiwei being at #8 on this list doesn’t mean he was the 8th most searched for thing on all of Baidu, it means he was the 8th most searched for thing on Baidu after the things that get searched for every day (Youku, NBA, etc. etc.) are discounted.

Still, this list is something I’ve been reading every day for the past several months, and it’s a pretty great indicator of what news stories are the hottest on any given day on the mainland. It is also, of course, censored. For that reason, I was doubly shocked when I saw Ai Weiwei’s name — I didn’t expect that many people to be searching for him, nor did I expect his name to be able to appear on this list.

The latter was, apparently, an oversight. Shortly after I noticed this and reported it on Twitter, the list was updated and Ai Weiwei was nowhere to be found. Clearly his initial presence on the list was just a temporary oversight on the part of Baidu’s censors. But what of the fact that he was getting searched for enough to appear there in the first place?

Regular Baidu searches for his name turn up fairly “harmless” stuff, as you would expect. There’s no reference to his activism or to his arrest and continuing detention ((Which, I recently learned, could be totally legal. Apparently under Chinese law you can be kept under house arrest indefinitely without charges or any need to notify the family of your whereabouts. This is true because most house arrests occur in one’s own house, but many have speculated that since Ai’s detention would be illegal at this point under Chinese law any other way, he may be officially under “house arrest,” but at a “house” that was chosen for him by police. That way, they can legally hold him as long as they want without charging him, and they don’t have to tell anyone where he is. Fun!)), which isn’t surprising given that Baidu’s search results are censored. But since almost all of the items on Baidu’s list come from news stories, I also checked Baidu’s news search and found this story, which is probably what sparked the spike in searches for Ai Weiwei.

As readers of Chinese will quickly see, it’s actually a story about economics, but a ways down the page there is an interview between a reporter and a representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in which the reporter asks this question:

“Many people in Europe are concerned about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and I don’t know where he is either, can you tell us whether or not he is alive ((Presumably the interview was conducted before Ai was allowed to meet with his wife briefly earlier this week)), and what kind of charges he will face?”

The Foreign Ministry official’s answer is exactly what you’d expect, and I’m not going to translate it because you can read it in the Global Times in English basically any day of the week.

What’s interesting about this story is that a question about Ai phrased in that way is allowed to appear online uncensored, and morevoer, that such a question, halfway through an article about economics, would attract so much attention that the term “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” would suddenly be propelled to the top ten of Baidu’s hot topics list.

Of course, there’s no way to be sure that article is what did it. But there are no other recent articles on Baidu about Ai Weiwei, and no other considerable reason that that search term would suddenly show up today.

In any event, it seems to indicate that Ai’s domestic profile (and the domestic profile of his arrest and detention) may be significantly higher than everyone — his detractors and his supporters alike — originally thought.

UPDATE: Fascinatingly, Ai Weiwei has also appeared — twice — on the weekly trending topics list, which isn’t something I look at. His name “Ai Weiwei” made the top ten weekly trending searches on May 14th and May 15th; screen captures of that as well as more analysis are available at ZaiChina (in Spanish, but Google Translate is your friend). Thanks to Daniel Mendez of ZaiChina for pointing this all out in the comments here.

“Economic Crimes”? How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

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….

The Global Times, Translated

The Global Times (as one would expect) has decided to take this whole Ai Weiwei nonsense head on. For those of you who have trouble reading between the lines of Chinese newspapers (i.e., no one), we’re providing a translation. Note: this is our first ever gibberish-to-English translation ((Another note: this is meant to be funny, if you hadn’t guessed already.))

Political activism cannot be a legal shield

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is being investigated over “suspected economic crimes,” according to authorities Thursday. Some Western media outlets immediately questioned the charge as a “catch-all crime,” and insisted on interpreting the case in their own way.

Translation: Despite our explicit instructions to the contrary, you annoying foreigners have a habit of “interpreting” things based on sources, factual data, historical precedents, and common sense, rather than the Ministry of Culture’s press releases.

Western media claimed that Ai was “missing” or had “disappeared” in previous reports, despite their acknowledgement of Ai’s detainment. They used such words to paint the Chinese government as a “kidnapper.”

Translation: Look, just because we dragged the guy away, refused to admit it for several days, and didn’t tell anyone in his family doesn’t mean we kidnapped the guy! We prefer to call it surprise involuntary secret fun time.

Now they describe the police’s charge as “laughable” and flout the spirit of the law. They depict anyone conducting anti-government activities in China as being innocent, and as being exempt unconditionally from legal pursuit.

Translation: Just because we arrest a whole bunch of dissidents, you act like we’re cracking down on dissidents or something? Baseless. These guys just all cheated on their taxes. At the same time.

Diplomats and officials from countries such as the US and Germany on Wednesday rebuked China once again over human rights. A mayor from South Korea also issued a statement pressuring China to release Ai soon. Such intensive intervention has barely been seen in China of late.

Translation: We really enjoyed that downtime during the worst of the recession, when all of you shut up because you were afraid we would call in your debts.

Ai’s detention is one of the many judicial cases handled in China every day. It is pure fantasy to conclude that Ai’s case will be handled specially and unfairly. The era of judicial cases involving severely unjust, false or wrong charges has gone.

Translation: Look, our terrible track record is no reason to just assume this trial will also be rigged! After all, it’s not like our court system is totally beholden to some kind of political apparatus or…oh. Nevermind.

Nowadays, corrupt officials and the occasional dissident may view their own cases as being handled unfairly: The former believe their merits offset faults, and the latter see China’s legal system as maintaining an “illegal” existence. Ai once said China was living a “crazy, black” era. This is not the mainstream perception among Chinese society.

Translation: Forget about that whole “economic crimes” thing. That’s so five paragraphs ago. Ai is a dissident whose views are out of touch with mainstream society!

China’s legal system ensures the basic order of this large-scale country. It guarantees the balanced development of civil livelihood and social establishment. Besides, it maintains an economic order that not only propels domestic growth but also generates foreign exchange powerful enough to purchase US treasury bonds.

Translation: Before you criticize our legal system, remember you owe us money!

The integrated legal system is the framework of China. The West wants to bring changes to this framework, shaping it as they please, and transforming the nation into a compliant puppet. They have succeeded in creating many such puppets around the world.

Translation: Our legal system is very integrated, in that it is governed by and answers to the Party. Western, non-integrated judicial systems are merely imperialist plots.

China is not the dangerous place of Western description. Otherwise, Ai would not have returned to China from the US, and Western diplomats and businessmen would not view China as the best place for doing business. But like other safe places in the world, China is only safe for law-abiding citizens, and nobody is allowed to see illegal acts go unpunished.

Translation: China is not a dangerous place unless you break the law. Don’t ask which law, though. We prefer to just detain you first, and keep that whole law part a surprise until we’ve decided which one you broke.

The charge of “suspected economic crimes” does not mean Ai will be found guilty. The case should be handled properly through legal procedures, and Western pressure should not weigh upon the court’s decision.

Translation: That said, we might be totally making all this “economic crimes” stuff up.

If Ai’s “suspected economic crimes” are justified, the conviction should not consider his “pro-democracy” activities. The only relation between the two is probably the lesson that anyone who engages in political activities needs to keep “clean hands.”

Translation: Here is the part where we say something rational, to make you feel like everything else we said might have also made sense. But then we follow that up with a warning about how people who engage in politics need to be careful! Except, of course, actual politicians. Because who are we kidding, they can do whatever the fuck they want!

If Ai is found not guilty, his acquittal should transcend politics too. However the authorities should learn to be more cautious and find sufficient evidence before detaining public figures next time.

Translation: We are starting to feel a little nervous about this whole thing, though.

Comments

This is just meant as a humor piece. In actuality, the Global Times is right that if Ai Weiwei has actually committed economic crimes, he should be convicted, and that his “pro-democracy” activities shouldn’t affect his sentence in this case one way or the other. However, even if these crimes are real — and there’s not a shred of evidence yet that they are — one wonders if all the manpower spent on investigating the finances of a man who makes art installations for a living might be better spent investigating the guys who make tofu buildings, poisoned foods, and fake baijiu for a living (or, better yet, the government workers who “supervise” them!).

In actuality, if there are crimes, China certainly has the right to make that case, and I don’t see why the police should be required to present evidence to the media at this juncture. That said, from a PR standpoint, they must understand that in the overall context of the past few months and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, journalists really have no choice but to interpret the arrest as political. And the long delay in naming the reason for Ai’s arrest (and confirming he was arrested at all) did not look good. If this is a totally legitimate case, China has a right to prosecute it, but it’s hardly fair to get upset at people for drawing one conclusion if you refuse to give them any evidence that points toward the other.

For the Nth time, China needs to hire some PR people who understand the Western media. Either that, or stop caring what the Western media says.

Me, I’m a fan of innocent until proven guilty, so: Free Ai Weiwei.

Two China Documentaries to Support

Many of you know that I’m currently working on my own documentary with the ChinaGeeks team. Some of you even gave me money (but we spent it all already, and need more)! Anyway, mine is not the only cool documentary project around. In fact, here are two that are cooler and more professional than my own. At the very least, take the time to check them out, and if you like them, pony up a little cash to show support!

(Note: the text below is copied from the projects’ respective Kickstarter pages).

UPDATE:
Never mind about that first one!

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Two years, seven countries and eleven cities later, I know Ai Weiwei. He is the ultimate prankster: simultaneously an international art star and a “dissident artist” in the Western press, with tens of thousands of Chinese netizens following him online and the government keeping almost constant tabs on him.

I have over 200 hours of footage (some of it viewable here) that includes never-before-seen interviews with Weiwei’s family, friends and fellow artists, and chronicles his preparation for major museum shows at the Haus der Kunst and Tate Modern, and a public sculpture work for New York’s Central Park. The two years I spent filming him really mark his rise to international renown, both for his art and his online activism. He is probably the fiercest and loudest internal critic of China, yet somehow he is not in jail. ((This is from her original pitch; obviously, there’s also an update about Ai Weiwei’s current situation.))

Weiwei’s story is extraordinary, but I need your help bringing it to the world.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alisonklayman/ai-weiwei-never-sorry?ref=spotlight

Comments

These both look like really cool projects, so please check them out! I have only copied parts of their pitches here, so check out their Kickstarter pages for the full deal and the rewards you can get for donating.

Note: I am opening the comments in this post so that people can express their support for these cool projects. OFF TOPIC COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED. Please read that sentence a couple times before you hit “Post comment.”

Ai Weiwei Detained

Details are scarce and I have nothing of value to add; here’s the story as written by Tania Branigan and Jonathan Watts for the Guardian:

China’s best-known artist, Ai Weiwei, has been detained in Beijing and police have searched his studio, confiscated computers and questioned assistants.

The 53-year-old remains uncontactable more than 12 hours after officials held him at the capital’s airport.

The whole story is well worth reading. Two thoughts: first, the timing of this was carefully chosen. Ai, apparently, was detained right at the beginning of a nationwide three day holiday.

Second, it lends some more credence to this. Expats who have lived in China for years are beginning to talk about going home. The government, I suspect, doesn’t care, and I’m sure there are others who feel that foreigners who don’t like the way China is governed should leave.