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Ai Weiwei arrest: Why no one in China is safe from those in power

The Chinese Communist authorities' detainment of well-known artist Ai Weiwei is shocking even to a hardened dissident like me. It once again reveals the essence of the Chinese state for all the world to see: the rule by law for the authorities instead of the rule of law for the people.

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On April 3, the Chinese Communist authorities secretly detained the well-known artist Ai Weiwei. Neither his family nor friends were notified of what happened to him, why he was seized, or where he was. Like everyone else, they have now learned from the Xinhua News Agency that he is under investigation for “economic crimes.”

Since this happened to one of China’s most well-known cultural figures, it has prompted many to remember the opening shots of the Cultural Revolution, when the Maoist regime removed ideologically inconvenient artists, writers, and intellectuals from the scene at will without even any pretense to legal procedures.

After the long march toward the rule of law China has been tentatively treading since the end of the Mao era, this return to outright lawlessness is shocking even to a hardened dissident like me. If the authorities can detain a figure of such stature arbitrarily and hold him incommunicado as long as they want with no access to family or legal counsel, then no one in China is safe from the whims and anxieties of those in power.

This episode reveals not only the essence of a system where the individual has no rights, but also the evolution of a new brand of repression: the perverted “rule by law” instead of the “rule of law.” In other words, the application of legal loopholes to violate human rights instead of protect them.

“Residence under surveillance” – where one is detained with no habeas corpus rights – is one of those legal loopholes.


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