The Price of Freedom In China

© Ai Weiwei

LIFE FOR ACTIVISTS AND DISSIDENTS IN CHINA GROWS MORE DESPERATE after this week’s extrajudicial detention of artist Ai Weiwei. He was last seen Sunday as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong.

It’s the latest, and most high profile, arrest of any dissident so far in China’s latest crackdown on dissidents and artists.

China is afraid of an Arab-style uprising. Persistent and anonymous calls for a “jasmine revolution” keep cropping up. Ai Weiwei, always an outspoken critic of China’s ruling communist party, made no secret of his support for civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, the dissidents are rounded up: there were dozens of arrests last week.

It was not until Ai Weiwei’s forced disappearance that governments joined human rights groups in condemning China’s actions, including the United States, France, and Germany.

The EU and China have a scheduled dialogue for the end of May. This is yet another opportunity for democratic nations to fully engage China and call them out for their lack of human rights. The EU must not let China slither away with its double talk about “misunderstandings.”

The appeasement of China must stop.

Time and again China acts preemptively, and with impunity, to silence dissent, while the West looks the other way or wrings its hands, and releases mealy-mouth statements to “free such-and-such.”

Liu Xiaobo is still in prison. So are thousands of political prisoners held in China. And China’s occupation of Tibet continues with the arrests, torture, and deaths of thousands of Tibetans.

Dissent in China is real, otherwise the government wouldn’t be reacting so violently. The nascent flowering of revolution was nipped in the bud (here’s a timeline of how the original non-protests went down), but repression will not make it go away.

We’ve forgotten that revolutions once happened without cell phones, the Internet, or computers. They happened by word-of-mouth, pamphleteering, meetings between people.

In 1989, there was no Internet—but students organized in Tiananmen Square anyway.

It’s true this generation doesn’t know a world without digital connection. And the people who remember Tiananmen, or who were there and survived, may not be able to speak of it today. But that’s what China needs now: the passed note and human voice. It’s time to rescue the old tools of revolution.

The human voice is ultimately the most powerful tool we have: we must speak up, and speak loudly. We must all do this now to support democracy and defend the voiceless.

For more on how to support human rights in China, visit Chinese Human Rights Defenders or Human Rights in China.

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