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Worsening Crackdown in China

And the still invisible U.S. response.

9:22 AM, Apr 4, 2011 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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China's president Hu Jintao

In a post last week about the dramatically deteriorating human rights situation in China, there remained many questions about what had really happened to Dr. Yang Hengjun, the Australian citizen of Chinese descent, who disappeared one week ago and was believed to have been in Chinese custody.On his way out of China, he gave a poignant—yet cryptic—interview to his friend John Garnaut, a Beijing foreign correspondent who covers China for the Sidney Morning Herald. In the interview, Dr. Yang refused to say more about his strange disappearance than he has already said: that he was "ill" and his mobile phone battery died. He did, however, thank colleagues, friends, and the Australian government for speaking up for him, and criticized fellow Chinese colleagues for not raising questions about his situation in their role as journalists. Dr. Yang also insists he will return to China to continue working for human rights and democracy, and asked the foreign media not to give him any more publicity, as it will harm those efforts. Under these circumstances, this may be the last we hear in public of Dr. Yang's ordeal for some time.

(To read more of John Garnaut's excellent reports on this case, you can go hereherehere and here. Evan Osnos also has a good summary of  the overall horrible situation in China over at the New Yorker blog. The folks at China Human Rights Defenders also have released a more comprehensive list of the missing and detained.) 

Over the weekend, the news from Beijing has only been worse. Ai Weiwei, China's most prominent and widely known contemporary artist, was detained at the Beijing airport as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong on Sunday and remains in detention. In what appeared to be a coordinated effort, his studio in Beijing was simultaneously surrounded by police and raided. Reports indicate that up to 8 of his staff were detained and questioned by police for several hours, and around 30 computers and hundreds of other electronic devices were confiscated. (Ai is a multi-media, large installation artist, photographer, and part-time videographer/documentarian/blogger.) His wife was also detained for questioning, and then later released (the last update was that she is now at home and is "shaken" by the events of the day). They have a 2-year-old son. In addition, there are unconfirmed reports that a colleague of his in Fujian province, Wen Tao, was also taken into custody at the same time. The two were about to begin a video project on persons facing legal injustices in Fujian. Ai Weiwei, who is one of China's most prolific online personalities, is also being erased from cyberspace. His posts on Chinese Twitter-like sites and blogs began to disappear about the same time he did. (The arts website Hyperallergic has a good summary of this evolving situation.)

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