Thu, Aug 11, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Ai attacks treatment of friends

ARTISTIC TWEETS:The artist lashed out via Twitter at Beijing’s ‘torment’ of friends who helped him in his case as well as backing some detained activists facing trial

The Guardian and AFP, BEIJING

Ai Weiwei (艾未未), the artist held for more than two months by Chinese authorities, has lashed out at the “torment” of friends entangled in his case and pressed the cases of detained activists.

“If you don’t speak for Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), and don’t speak for Ran Yunfei (冉雲飛), you are not just a person who will not stand out for fairness and justice; you do not have self-respect,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

Wang is expected to face trial within weeks for “creating a disturbance” after demonstrating in support of bloggers accused of slander after writing about a suspicious death.

Ran, 43, is a high-profile blogger, was detained in March and later formally charged with “inciting subversion of state power” during a crackdown on dissent linked to calls for Chinese citizens to join protests echoing anti-government actions in the Middle East.

Ai’s Twitter messages are by far his strongest remarks since his release and were written despite bail conditions placing him under tight restrictions for at least a year.

Xinhua news agency said in June that police had released Ai “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes” and a chronic illness, adding that he had agreed to pay back taxes he had evaded.

Authorities say the case had nothing to do with human rights, but supporters believe it was retaliation for the 54-year-old’s social and political activism.

Four of Ai’s associates — his friend Wen Tao (文濤), designer Liu Zhenggang (劉正剛), accountant Hu Mingfen (胡明芬) and driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong (張勁松) — were held for around two months, and released shortly after him.

“Today I met Liu Zhenggang. He talked about the detention for the first time ... This steel-willed man had tears coming down ... He had a sudden heart attack at the detention center and almost died,” Ai wrote in a tweet late on Monday night.

“For a while, we were detained at the same place. I heard another artist with beard had also come in, but didn’t expect that to be him,” Ai wrote.

“Because of the connection with me, they were illegally detained. Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao and Zhang Jinsong innocently suffered immense mental devastation and physical torment,” he wrote.

Ai said he was not able to give interviews.

However, he confirmed to the Guardian that he had written the tweets.

“It was the first time after my release that I had met my colleague. I was so shocked when I saw him ... He [had] a heart attack and his body was still not moving well. They treated him terribly and he almost died during his inhumane detention,” he said.

“So many people were related to my case and were inhumanely treated for so long ... How could society and the system do this kind of thing and use the name of justice?” he wrote.

He said he was angry because he believed they had been ordered not to discuss their treatment with anyone.

Police in Beijing never responded to media queries about Ai’s four friends. Asked about their disappearances at the time, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press officer referred queries to local authorities.

The artist resumed posting messages on Twitter — which is blocked in China, but available to those using virtual private networks or other means of evading the firewall — at the weekend. His initial remarks were innocuous, including references to what he was eating.

Asked if he was worried about the repercussions of his tweets, he replied: “I am worried about everything. What am I going to do?”

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