Monday, June 27, 2011

Chinese government muzzles Ai Weiwei: no talking, no tweeting and no travel for a year

from Reuters:

BEIJING | Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:34am EDT

(Reuters) - No talking, no tweeting and no travel for a year -- these are some of the conditions of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei's release from more than two months in detention, underscoring Beijing's efforts to muzzle dissent.

The comprehensive gag on Ai, who is not allowed to post anything on Twitter or accept interviews for a year, raises questions about the Chinese government's repeated claims that his detention was based on economic crimes.

"The key thing is these two conditions -- the media and the Internet," a source close to the family told Reuters on Friday.

Ai has freedom of movement within Beijing, but before he "goes out, he needs to report his whereabouts to them" for a year, the source said, but declined to elaborate who Ai needs to report to.

Prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said it was illegal for the government to restrict Ai from tweeting or accepting interviews.

"A strong government that is ruled by law cannot impose conditions like these on its citizens," Pu said. "If there is indeed a criminal case, why isn't there a mention of it? Up until now, there hasn't been a notice of the case.

"This behaviour is illegal -- it's in violation of the United Nations conventions."

Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, as authorities fear these websites could allow the government's critics to organise.

But many people, including dissidents, use virtual private networks to circumvent the restrictions.

Ai has 89,117 followers on Twitter and has tweeted 60,162 times -- the last occasion being on April 3, the day he was detained.

Analysts say Ai's release is far from a signal of a policy shift by the ruling Communist Party. Authorities have muzzled dissent with the secretive detentions of more than 130 lawyers and activists since February, amid fears that anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world could trigger unrest.

The Foreign Ministry said Ai, who had a hand in designing the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, remained under investigation for suspicion of economic crimes.

But police have issued no formal notice to explain why he was being held. Ai's family says the allegations are an excuse to silence his criticism.


We send our best wishes to Ai Weiwei on his release from three months of Chinese government detention. We sincerely hope that he will be able to resume his activist role as provocateur, dissident and gadfly within China, continually offering a critique of the entrenched Communist Party bureaucracy.

Thus far, he has been loath to give an interview regarding his detention, undoubtedly part of the terms of his “qubao houshen” - the deal he needed to make with his captors to obtain release. Apparently this deal includes one year of restrictions: no Twitter, no interviews, no foreign travel, and even reports on prospective trips within China.

As noted by Barbara Pollack in a recent Artnet piece, constant pressure from the Western art establishment - artists, critics, curators, museums - certainly contributed to Ai's release, but there is still the danger that his full range of artistic expression has been placed in jeopardy. This includes not just his sculpture and installation work, but also his online activism. "Now is not the time", she says, "to lessen the pressure to restore his freedom to communicate with the world."

Hans Ulrich Obrist has declared that Ai Weiwei's online activism is his form of social sculpture and his most potent form of art making. If so, now is not the time to lessen the pressure to restore his freedom to communicate with the world. While museums from Asia Society to the Hirshhorn plan Ai Weiwei exhibitions of his photographs and sculptures, we cannot ignore that his online oeuvre -- the least marketable and institution-friendly aspect of his work -- is being silenced. Until now, western museums have rarely demanded that the Chinese respond to calls for freedom of expression. With the case of Ai Weiwei, such a demand is unavoidable.

So consider this mockup of a typical tourist t-shirt my gentle prod towards the restoration of unfettered free speech and full artistic expression to Ai Weiwei, in both the "real" and online realms.

Ai Weiwei released on bail, returns home

After almost three months of detention by Chinese government authorities, Ai Weiwei was released yesterday on bail and returned to his home in Beijing.

On April 3, 2011, as he was attempting to fly to Hong Kong, Ai was seized by Chinese government agents and held incommunicado. Charges against him were not stated immediately, but only weeks later, and include supposed tax evasion and destruction of documents.

Hundreds of arts institutions, thousands of people - artists, critics, curators, museum directors etc. - have been following this unlawful detention. It has become an essential issue of free speech that has transfixed the art world, has precipitated massive signing of petitions, with lots of coverage in both the cultural and mainstream press.

Previous government harassment against Ai has included beatings, bulldozing his studio in Shanghai, and shutting down his blog.

Ai's final release on bail, predicated on his confessing to trumped up "economic crimes", avoids the obvious reason for his detention: his consistent posture of criticism of the totalitarian excesses of the Chinese government.

He is by no means out of danger yet. The terms of release negotiated with the Chinese government - similar to "bail", but called “qubao houshen” - prevents him from speaking on his detention, as is obvious in the above video. Typically, prosecutors drop charges against a suspect on certain conditions, including "good behavior", while subjecting him to monitoring over a period of time during which charges could be reintroduced. He could still be tried on the bogus tax charges, while his words and activities are being closely watched by Chinese authorities. So the situation, while improved, is still tenuous.

It will be interesting to see how Ai Weiwei proceeds, based on the terms of release he negotiated with Chinese authorities. How will his detention affect his art making, his status as provocateur, dissident and gadfly within China, continually offering a critique of the entrenched Communist Party bureaucracy, its cruelty, abuses and expedience?


Japanese scientist makes good on Yes Men meme: synthesizing meat from human feces

A Japanese scientist has reportedly discovered a way to create edible steaks based on proteins from human excrement. Tokyo Sewage approached Mitsuyuki Ikeda, a researcher from the Okayama Laboratory, to explore possible uses for their overabundance of sewage mud. Ikeda found that bacteria in the mud had produced a great deal of protein.

The laboratory extracted those proteins, combined them with a reaction enhancer and put the mixture in an exploder which created the artificial steak. The “meat” is 63% proteins, 25% carbohydrates, 3% lipids and 9% minerals. The final product is colored red and its flavor enhanced with soy protein. Initial tests have people indicating it tastes like beef.

Scientists hope to price their synthetic the same as actual meat, but at the moment the excrement steaks are ten to twenty times more expensive due to the cost of research.

Apparently this is NOT a hoax, like the Yes Men's infamous Post Consumer Waste Recycling Program segment from their first film.