The domestic media silence surrounding the detention of Ai Weiwei was broken today by a Communist Party-run newspaper, which declared that the Chinese artist and activist “will be judged by history, but he will pay a price for his special choice.” The strident tone of today’s article, which was published in the Chinese and English-language editions of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, has raised fears among Ai’s supporters that his detention may not end soon. “I think these articles are a significant development,” says Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “Until now I was still hopeful that Ai Weiwei would be released, but it looks like the authorities are laying the groundwork for a possible criminal arrest.”
Ai, 53, was stopped Sunday at the Beijing airport while attempting to board a flight to Hong Kong. Police raided his Beijing studio, removed computers and interviewed staff members. His continued detention has prompted global criticism. The United States, the European Union, Australia, Britain, France and Germany have all raised concerns about his case. So far the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which observed a national holiday on Monday and Tuesday, has not issued a public response. The Global Times lashed out at the criticism, which it called “reckless collision against China’s basic political framework and ignorance of China’s judicial sovereignty.”
The editorial continues:
The West’s behavior aims at disrupting the attention of Chinese society and attempts to modify the value system of the Chinese people.
Ai Weiwei is an activist. As a maverick of Chinese society, he likes ‘surprising speech’ and ‘surprising behavior.’ He also likes to do something ambiguous in law. On April 1, he went to Taiwan via Hong Kong. But it was reported his departure procedures were incomplete.
Ai Weiwei likes to do something ‘others dare not do.’ He has been close to the red line of Chinese law. Objectively speaking, Chinese society does not have much experience in dealing with such persons. However, as long as Ai Weiwei continuously marches forward, he will inevitably touch the red line one day.
Aside from the line about Ai’s incomplete visa procedures, the piece little specifics on what laws Ai may have broken. But it targets his public statements on sensitive political causes, many of which Ai has embraced in recent years. He helped organize an investigation into the deaths of schoolchildren in schools that collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, then published their names on his popular Twitter account. It was believed that his prominence as one of China’s most successful artists and as the son of a popular poet gave him a measure of protection. But in the current climate, which has seen at least two-dozen activists detained amid a harsh response to calls for a “jasmine revolution” in China, his exceptional status may have ended. Human rights advocates say there is still hope for his release, but if a case progresses against him that hope diminishes. “The next few days are going be critical,” says Bequelin. “It’s not too late make Beijing back down. But once he is formally arrested, we know that in 90% of the cases that leads to imprisonment.”