Chinese activists consecutively gone missing

By Yo Tong on April 6, 2011
Ai is said to be subject of “economic crimes” investigation. Image by Andy Miah.

Chinese activist Zhao Lianhai has recently gone missing, and the whereabouts of another dissident, Ai Weiwei are still unknown. Xinhua News, the official Chinese news agency, reported on Thursday that Ai is under police investigation for “economic crimes”.

After his son became ill as a result of the 2008 Chinese toxic milk powder scandal, Zhao became an activist for the victims of the incident, and was accordingly sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail on November 10th, 2010, for “disturbing social order”. He was officially released on medical parole on December 28th, but in incommunicado has been under close police supervision.

On Thursday, at midnight (Chinese local time), Zhao Lianhai wrote on the micro-blogging site, Twitter, that he had discussed matters relating to Ai Weiwei and other issues with four officials. Before the report by Xinhua News, Zhao said that Chinese authorities had not yet reported the details of Ai's case.

In his final message before briefly disappearing on Wednesday evening, Zhao Lianhai tweeted, “someone's at my door”. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said that patrol cars had been spotted near Zhaoʼs residence. The hypothesis that he was detained is shored up by the fact that Zhao Xinling, his sister, did not find him at his residence Wednesday evening.

Earlier that day, the activist wrote on his Twitter page that he was ready to protest to the death by refusing to eat, drink, or receive any medical attention to fight for his cause.

On April 5th, Zhao broke his silence and made an emotional online appeal for the release of Ai. In the YouTube video clip posted Tuesday, Zhao appeared with his son, Pengrui, who suffered from melamine poisoning in 2008, and urged the authorities to release Ai and many other recently abducted “good people”.

Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing International Airport's customs soon before boarding a flight to Hong Kong on April 3rd, according to his assistant who was interviewed by the New York Times. The man who answered the phone at the Beijing Public Security Bureau on Sunday declined to answer questions about Aiʼs whereabouts and hung up, according to the same report. Aiʼs studio came under custody of the Chinese authorities shortly after his disappearance.

The Global Times, a communist paper, published an editorial on April 6th entitled “Law will not concede before Maverick”. Though it stopped short of confirming Ai’s arrest, it said Ai has been “close to the red line of Chinese law [...] and will inevitably touch the red line one day”. It restated that “the law will not concede before "mavericks" just because of the Western media's criticism”.

Ai Weiwei is an artist, renown for his conceptual artwork such as “Template” and “Sunflower Seeds.” Although he distanced himself from the project, Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium during the 2008 Olympic Games. He has been critical of numerous social issues in China, including an alleged corruption scandal in the construction of Sichuan schools (“Tofu-dreg construction”) that collapsed amidst the earthquake in 2008. Ai Weiweiʼs father, Ai Qing, was a poet and one of the victims of the Cultural Revolution.

Zhao and Ai are not the only ones facing suppression by Chinese government as the authorities tightens control since anonymous calls for “Jasmine Revolution” protests first appeared online. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, as of March 31st, 26 individuals have been confirmed as being criminally detained.