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The Ai Weiwei Case: So Far, So Bad

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
April 26, 2011
South China Morning Post

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It is now twenty-three days since artist-activist Ai Weiwei's detention by Beijing police. Yet foreign media interest has not flagged, despite the silence of the Chinese legal system and Chinese government efforts to manipulate information.

Ai's family still has not received the ordinarily-required notice of detention telling where he is detained and why. There has been no attempt by police to justify this failure on the only ground permitted by law — that such notice “might hinder their investigation”. Nor have the police claimed that Ai's case falls within the narrow exceptions prescribed by law for extending a detained suspect's detention beyond seven days without their seeking prosecutors' approval.

Ai's would-be legal advisors should have been permitted to meet him weeks ago, right after detention. That is what the law requires except when the police declare that the case involves “state secrets”, which they have not. Yet police intimidation appears to prevent access to counsel even now. One lawyer was himself illegally “abducted” for several days after his discussions with Ai's family. The other, by keeping himself incommunicado, has thus far avoided the abduction, prosecution or illegal house arrest that so many other human rights lawyers have recently suffered. Without active defense counsel, there is no hope of making police and their thugs accountable to other officials including prosecutors, judges or legislators, not to mention the public. Although in ordinary cases even Communist Party leaders may have difficulty controlling local police, in prominent cases such as Ai's one can assume that police follow high-level party instructions.

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