Ai Weiwei's arrest is part of China's new crackdown

Mr. Ai with one of his “Zodiac” heads. Mr. Ai with one of his “Zodiac” heads.

On Thursday MEPs will hold an emergency debate on the arrest of Ai Weiwei, the brilliant Chinese artist and political activist, as well as other victims of Beijing's new crackdown. His is the highest-profile case since Liu Xiabao was sentenced to 11 years in prison for subversion – and won the 2010 Nobel peace prize for his leading role in the Charter 08 movement.

With the world's attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, Chinese authorities are reacting to the widespread rumblings since mid-February, when a "jasmine revolution" was called across China, and a few brave souls dared to express their protest.

Ai, who is best known for creating the sunflower seed installation in London's Tate Modern and his work on Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium, is the highest-profile victim in the heavy-handed suppression of political dissidents by Chinese officials.

The Beijing regime has detained or arrested dozens of human rights activists from lawyers to bloggers in what appears to be a pre-emptive strike against what they "might" do. The process resembles the pre-Olympic Games crackdown in 2008.

The police are again regularly putting activists and their families under house arrest, depriving them of their rights without any hint of due process. In the past few days four veteran activists – Liu Xianbin, Ran Yunfei, Ding Mao and Chen Wei – were all formally charged with inciting subversion of state power. Instead of the routine three-year sentences, 10 years is now normal.

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