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April 06, 2011

China Investigates Detained Artist for Economic Crimes

by Stephanie Ho

Chinese authorities are investigating detained activist-artist Ai Weiwei for economic crimes.  The government's admission comes as diplomats and activists step up their criticism of the Chinese government's widespread and growing crackdown on dissent.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said artist-activist Ai Weiwei is being investigated, under law.

Hong says Ai is being held on suspicion of economic crimes, but offered no further explanation.

Liu Xiaoyuan is a lawyer close to Ai's family.  He says, despite the official public statements about the artist, the family has received no official information.

Liu says family members went to the Beijing Public Security bureau with a written request for a legal notification as to Ai Weiwei's status.  They wanted to know why he was taken away, whether he was forcibly detained and what crimes he has committed.

Liu says they got no answer because they could not find the correct person in charge.

Ai has been completely out of contact with his family since being detained Sunday.

He is an internationally famous artist, who is best known for helping design the highlight of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Bird's Nest stadium.

That same year, Ai also began speaking out for the thousands of child victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, who he says died because of shoddy school construction.

His case has been taken up by the international community, including U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who said American envoys will continue to champion human rights as what he describes as a "bedrock" of the American world view.

"[U.S. envoys] will continue to speak up in defense of social activists like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and now Ai Weiwei, who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times," said Huntsman.

He made his comments Wednesday, during a speech in Shanghai.

Meanwhile, other Chinese activists are also speaking out against the latest crackdown on dissent, which began after online calls on the Internet urged people to hold protests similar to the Jasmine Revolutions demonstrations that brought down governments in the Middle East.

Zhao Lianhai, who spent time in jail last year for protesting a massive tainted milk scandal, released an emotional video on YouTube.

Zhao says that Chinese authorities have rounded up many people lately.   He says that, although some of these people may have had sharp criticism of the government, they have good intentions.  He adds that, if the government locks up everyone who has good intentions, then ordinary people will have nowhere to look for hope.

Zhao says the recent crackdown has left him "agonized."  He says he was dismayed to hear that authorities were even able to get Ai Weiwei, whom he referred to familiarly as "Old Ai."