The courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants

Inspired by correspondent Yan Liang and by the BBC documentary her April 19 post has drawn my attention to, I have been looking for more information about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has not been heard from since his arrest early this month.

For those of us unable to read Mandarin, The Guardian is a good source, with reports from Tania Branigan in Beijing and this moving video on its site. Ai speaks on camera about his father, a popular poet banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, and the impact of that on his own career as an activist.

My father’s experience definitely has to bear some weight. I have to speak for the generations who don’t have any way to speak out. Before they speak out the first sentence, they are crushed. I also have to speak out for the people around me who are afraid […] So I want to set an example: You can do it. And this is OK, to speak out.

Meanwhile, the social campaigns website Change.org, which hosts a petition calling for Ai’s release, has alleged that Chinese hackers made the site inaccessible on Monday. According to Branigan, the US-based site has since stabilized the platform.

Ai Weiwei is not the only prominent victim of a crackdown by Chinese authorities. As novelist Salman Rushdie writes this morning in The New York Times, writer Liao Yiwu was denied permission to travel to the United States to attend the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature (which begins in New York April 25), “and there are fears that he could be the regime’s next target.”

Liu Xianbin was sentenced last month to prison for incitement to subversion, the same charge leveled against Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, currently serving an 11-year term.

Rushdie concludes this morning's op-ed piece by saying,

Creative figures like Mr. Ai and his colleagues are often the only ones with the courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants. We needed the samizdat truth-tellers to reveal the ugliness of the Soviet Union. Today the government of China has become the world’s greatest threat to freedom of speech, and so we need Ai Weiwei, Liao Yiwu and Liu Xiaobo.


Linda Leith

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