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China Baffled by Support for Imprisoned Activist Ai Weiwei

Pro-democracy protesters carry portraits of detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei urging for his release in Hong Kong, April 10, 2011.

Pro-democracy protesters carry portraits of detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei urging for his release in Hong Kong, April 10, 2011.

The Chinese government says it is unhappy with international support for detained artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

The latest rebuke of international criticism about China's crackdown on dissidents comes on the same day European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton called on Beijing to release all those Chinese detained for exercising what she says is their universally recognized right to freedom of expression.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is a suspected criminal and foreign support for him has confused and angered the Chinese people.

Hong said the Chinese people are baffled by the outcry from Washington and other Western governments after Ai's arrest nine days ago. And he questioned why some people in some countries treat a crime suspect as a hero, adding that the Chinese people are unhappy about international support for the outspoken government critic.

Hours after Hong's rebuke, Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, made a plea to the Chinese government to release Ai and other dissidents recently detained.

Ashton said she is deeply concerned at the deterioration in the human rights situation in China and restrictions placed on foreign journalists. She also said arbitrary arrests and disappearances must cease, and the Chinese people should be treated under international human rights standards and the rule of law.

Ai is among scores of suspected activists detained by the government during an ongoing crackdown launched after anonymous calls for protests similar to those witnessed in the Arab world in the last few months.

He helped design the showcase 2008 Beijing Olympic Bird's Nest Stadium and his father is a celebrated revolutionary poet. But this has not prevented him quickly going from national ambassador and icon to suspected villain. The 53-year-old was detained nine days ago as he tried to leave the country for an exhibition. He has been charged with unspecified economic crimes.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong says Ai's former influence is irrelevant, now he is a suspect criminal. He says Ai will be punished according to the law.

Ai is a diabetic and has other health concerns. The authorities refuse to say how he is or where he is being held.

Tuesday, Hong also dismissed the U.S. report on humans rights, which heavily criticized China.

He says the United States should address its own human rights record and is urging other countries not to interfere in China's internal affairs.

China watchers claim Chinese leaders believe some of the country's dissenting citizens, like Ai and imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Lui Xiaobo, are backed by Western governments keen to topple the Communist Party.

Recent speeches and articles from senior security officials echo with warnings of subversive plots, backed by what they see as Western, anti-China forces.