One of the few moments of relief during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the tour de force performance of "Baghdad Bob" - AKA Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf -- the Iraqi Minister of Information who provided ludicrous statements about the status of Saddam Hussein's regime (always praise, he told us) and the progress of the American and coalition forces (who he claimed were committing suicide en masse at the city gates!).

Well, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has just deployed their own version of this guy. During the Foreign Ministry's February 11 daily press briefing, spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu was asked about a court decision denying the intermediate appeal of Chinese literary critic Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to eleven years in prison on Christmas Day for his role in writing and circulating a petition for democratic reform in China. His response: "There are no dissidents in China." The Foreign Ministry then handed out stuffed tigers to all the journalists in attendance, wishing them all a Happy Lunar New Year.

In addition to the denial of Liu Xiaobo's appeal, the Chinese regime has lately been turning the screws on other prominent political cases. Earlier this week, Tan Zouren and Huang Qi, two prominent activists who worked on behalf of victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, saw their lengthy prison sentences confirmed. And Chinese authorities recently told the family of well known human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng that the activist had "gone missing," despite the fact that Gao has been in police custody for over a year.

But, of course, none of these people are "dissidents" -- even if they are presenting a point of view of China that diverges from the image that the Chinese Communist Party vigorously promotes at home and abroad. Ai Weiwei, one of China's most famous artists (he was one of the designers of the iconic "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium) and blogger extraordinaire, tweeted his sardonic reaction to Beijing Bob's statement on the non-existence of Chinese dissidents:

1. Dissidents are criminals.

2. Only criminals have dissident ideas.

3. The distinction between criminals and non-criminals is whether they have dissident views.

4. If you think China has dissidents, you're a criminal.

5. The reason China has no dissidents is because they have already become criminals.

6. Does anyone have a dissenting view about what I've said?

(Thanks to Siweiluozi for translation.)

Ai Weiwei should know the truth about the Chinese government; he was attacked by the police in his hotel room when he went to observe Tan Zouren's trial in Chengdu last year and warned to stop his own work on behalf of quake victims. They beat him so badly he nearly died from an untreated cerebral hemorrhage. Ai recently learned he was under investigation for his "subversive" activities, and he has claimed that the Chinese regime is now trying to force him into exile. I suppose that's one way to make an honest man out of Beijing Bob.

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