(April 15, 2011) Patricia Adams writes: Chinese authorities will invent crimes, if need be, to silence dissidents for exercising their right to freedom of speech. However, renewed efforts to curb criticism and protest reveal an entrenched public distrust towards the government: the people of China, and the world, are done listening.
The Chinese government said on Tuesday that it was unhappy with the widespread foreign support for detained artist and activist Ai Weiwei, whose detention over a week ago sparked an international outcry from governments around the world.
Mr. Ai is the most prominent target so far in China’s massive crackdown on dozens of lawyers, writers, and activists. The crackdown follows calls by Chinese bloggers for protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa.
Several countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany have expressed their concern over Mr. Ai’s extrajudicial detention. And now the European Commission’s Vice President Catherine Ashton has called on Beijing to release Mr. Ai and all the others detained for exercising what she says is their universally recognized right to freedom of expression.
The Chinese government quickly hit back, saying that Mr. Ai is a suspected criminal of “economic crimes” and, if found guilty, would be “punished according to the law.”
The Chinese people feel “baffled,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei. “Why do some people in some countries treat a crime suspect as a hero?” he asked.
The reason, Mr. Hong, is that no one believes that the Chinese government’s accusation against Mr. Ai is credible, that his detention was lawful, or that China’s “judicial” system will deliver him justice according to the rule of law.
In short, no one believes the Chinese government propaganda, with the possible exception of the Chinese government itself.
The Chinese government is well known for inventing administrative crimes as a pretext for cracking down on dissidents. And if it doesn’t use arbitrary and unproven accusations of “economic crimes” against those it wishes to shut up, it trumps up charges of subversion of state authority. As it did with last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo. For drafting Charter ’08, a democracy charter for China, Mr. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in jail.
As it happens, Chinese citizens also don’t believe their government. Elsewhere on this website, Chinese blogger Zeng Jinyan explains how the recent panic buying of salt was triggered by China’s state TV when it insisted that China’s salt supply was safe, despite radioactive leaks from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors. Listeners took that as a sign of imminent shortages and began hoarding salt. People don’t trust government information, she says, and “it’s hard to blame them.”
By Patricia Adams for Probe International