China dismisses int'l concern over missing artist

Human rights protesters carry signs saying "Release Ai Weiwei" outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Human rights protesters carry signs saying "Release Ai Weiwei" outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Tuesday.Kin Cheung / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A state-run Chinese newspaper on Wednesday brushed aside international concerns over the fate of a prominent artist and activist missing since the weekend, calling him a maverick who lacks respect for the country's laws.

Human rights groups as well as the U.S., Britain and the European Union delegation in Beijing have expressed concern about Ai Weiwei, an avant-garde artist and outspoken government critic who was last seen early Sunday in police custody after he was barred from boarding a flight at a Beijing airport.

An editorial in the Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party's flagship People's Daily, said the international outcry was a deliberate attempt to undermine social stability in China.

"The West's behavior aims at disrupting the attention of Chinese society and attempts to modify the value system of the Chinese people," it said.

The newspaper called the 53-year-old Ai a maverick and said he engaged in "legally ambiguous activities" and liked to do things ordinary people wouldn't dare to try.

Chinese law "won't bend to mavericks," said the newspaper, which didn't specify what laws Ai was suspected of breaking or confirm whether he had been detained.

Ai's disappearance comes as security services carry out a massive crackdown on lawyers, writers and activists following online calls for protests in China similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa. No public protests have emerged.

Dozens have recently been taken into custody with little word from authorities about where they are being held, who is holding them or what crimes they are suspected of committing.

The editorial was unusual for China, which rarely comments on detained dissidents before they are formally charged. The decision underscored Ai's high international profile and appeared to suggest that China is building a criminal case against him for his social activism.

Among China's best-known artists internationally, Ai recently exhibited at the Tate Modern gallery in London. As an activist, he has campaigned for an independent investigation into the deaths of thousands of children when schools collapsed in the massive 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

World Blog: Ai arrest shows escalating crackdown

Ai's 78-year-old mother Gao Ying told The Associated Press by telephone that she's been sleepless since her son disappeared and on Tuesday sent out a mass text message appealing to the public to help find him.

"I am a mother who has lost her son, and has no place to look for him," she said. "Can someone tell me whether he has been detained, arrested and why? Where is the evidence of his crime? ... I don't understand why no one has contacted us, and why no one has explained anything to us."

Ai's father was one of China's most famous modern poets, Ai Qing, and that stature led many to believe Ai Weiwei was protected from serious attack or formal arrest. He had been courted by the government as a cultural ambassador before his advocacy on behalf of social activists apparently made him a target of Chinese authorities.

Growing up in a family that was "targeted and discriminated against" in the 1950s and 1960s for his father's alleged political crimes made Ai Weiwei particularly sensitive to injustice, his mother said.

"Issues like human rights, equality, democracy have been seeded in him since he was very, very young," Gao said.

Police searched Ai's home and studio shortly after his detention and removed computers and other items.

Ai's disappearance has sent a chill through the activist community and prompted many to rally for his release online by posting supportive Twitter messages or blog postings.

One rights campaigner posted an emotional YouTube video, pleading with authorities to understand that Ai's intentions were good and to free him. It was the first public statement issued by Zhao Lianhai, a Beijing writer jailed last year for protesting a massive tainted milk scandal, since he was released three months ago on medical parole.

"I've been in a very agonized state of mind these past few months seeing so many of my friends so severely persecuted and oppressed," Zhao said, his voice cracking. "In particular, a few days ago we found out that Ai Weiwei, our Old Ai, has also been made to disappear and so far there has been no clear declaration from the authorities about it."

In 2008, Zhao's 3-year-old son developed kidney stones after unscrupulous dairy manufacturers added the industrial chemical melamine to milk to artificially boost protein levels, prompting him to launch a compensation campaign for affected families. He ended up being sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison for inciting social disorder.