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Global Viewpoint

Ai Weiwei arrest: Why no one in China is safe from those in power

The Chinese Communist authorities' detainment of well-known artist Ai Weiwei is shocking even to a hardened dissident like me. It once again reveals the essence of the Chinese state for all the world to see: the rule by law for the authorities instead of the rule of law for the people.

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'Residence under surveillance' is illegal detention

The following day, I asked: “Is the document here yet? If not, I am ready to go home.” The old policeman said with hesitation: “Yes, it is here, and you cannot go home yet.” When he handed over that piece of paper, I laughed. It was a certificate of “residence under surveillance.” So I said: “Look, without evidence, you cannot even get a detention warrant from the Procuratorate.” He replied: “This ‘residence under surveillance’ (which allows continuous detention without charge) writ by the Public Security Bureau also works.”

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I said, “This is illegal detention. I will be looking for lawyers to file against you.” We had a quarrel. Then the authorities who had negotiated with me requested to talk to me alone.

We drove away from the “guesthouse” where I was being held – it supposedly belonged to the fake antique company in Tong County.

Striking a deal: keep quiet

I was told that the situation within the party leadership was very complicated. The anti-Jiang faction wanted trouble. If Jiang did not carry out the already reached agreement, or if there were unexpected protestations from my side, it would cause the breakdown of the deal with President Clinton. They told me that on the outside, the implementation of the agreement was still in effect, and the people I asked to be released were released. People like Wang Dan were still active, and the authorities had not arrested them despite pressure. So they hoped that I would not resist my detention, be patient, and give some face to Jiang Zemin for the sake of the country.

I weighed the pros and cons, and decided to accept their “residence under surveillance” document – while maintaining my rights of suing them for illegal detention at a later time.

After that, Mr. Clinton successfully delinked trade and human rights.

A new precedent for depriving personal freedom

When the authorities later took me to court, it turned out that even the court would not recognize that my detention had been legal under the Criminal Procedure Law requiring the approvals of the court and Procuratorate to deprive people of their freedom. But, they held, detaining a person without charge under “residence under surveillance” was a legal act.

Since then, depriving people’s personal freedom in the name of “residence under surveillance” became “legal.”

It is now routine under this public security tool for the state to deprive personal freedom arbitrarily. In other words, the law serves the authoritarian state, not the individual.

The Ai Weiwei case once again reveals the essence of the Chinese state for all the world to see. This is China’s legal system today: the rule by law for the authorities instead of the rule of law for the people.

Wei Jingsheng was a leader of the Chinese democracy movement who spent 15 years in prison for authoring “The Fifth Modernization,” which he posted on the Democracy Wall in Beijing. He was released from jail during the Clinton administration and has since lived in exile in the United States.

© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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