China charges Ai WeiWei with ‘economic crimes’

JISHOU, HUNAN — The BBC reports that Chinese authorities have confirmed they picked up dissident artist Ai WeiWei and are holding him for “economic crimes,” without providing any other details.

Ai, the co-designer of the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium, has had several run-ins with Chinese authorities in the past, who don’t like his persistent questioning of the status quo. They reportedly arrested him Sunday at the Hong Kong airport, where he was planning to take a flight abroad. An exhibit of Ai’s work is at the Tate modern gallery in London.

Foreign governments have protested the arrest and detention, but Beijing has basically said, as it always has, “MYOB.” Here’s a quote from the BBC report, so you can see what I mean.

“China is a country ruled by law and will act according to law. We hope that the countries concerned will respect China’s decision,” [foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei] said.

Since I know nothing about Ai’s supposed “economic crimes,” (a bogus charge, in my view) I can’t say if he broke any applicable laws. As for his dissidence, Ai has apparently been very careful to follow the strict letter of the law, as spelled out in the Chinese Constitution. He told a reporter for The New Yorker once that he wanted to test the “system” to see how committed the government is to its own laws.

Only when it suits them, it seems.

The BBC article also highlights another arrest, of a man who investigated the 2008 Chinese milk scandal. Zhao Lianhai’s son died after drinking milk tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical. Zhao was picked up by police after he tried to organize a parents’ group and demand compensation for the kids made ill by the tainted milk. He finished a prison sentence last month.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Zhao alleged he had been force fed the same kind of milk powder after he went on a hunger strike.

Moral of the stories: don’t make waves and disturb the “harmonious society.” (That is, the political bosses.)

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