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Obama Administration Must Denounce the Chinese Attack on Change.Org Over Criticism of China’s Detention of Human Rights Activist and Artist Ai Weiwei *updated*

April 28, 2011

The silence from the administration is deafening:

China’s latest crackdown on dissidents has reached a San Francisco website.

So far, neither the U.S. government nor our local representatives have had much to say about it.

This month, began a petition drive, initiated by the Guggenheim Foundation, calling for the release of imprisoned Chinese artist and government critic Ai Weiwei.

Ai’s detention – current whereabouts unknown, offense unknown – has drawn worldwide condemnation and appeals for his release. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the detention “contrary to the rule of law.”

As of Wednesday night, the petition had drawn more than 124,000 signatures, despite a sustained “distributed denial-of-service” attack, which began 10 days ago, slowing the site down considerably and periodically disrupting access to it altogether (

“It’s only after the petition went viral that the attacks began,” said Ben Rattray, the site’s founder and CEO. “The IP addresses from where the attacks were launched are in China.

“We heard today the FBI’s cybersecurity people are investigating to see what more they can uncover,” Rattray said.

The FBI’s involvement seems to be Washington’s first concrete reaction to the case. That and a letter sent Tuesday to Clinton by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., urging Clinton “to condemn this attack on and call on the Chinese government to take swift action to ensure that this attack and others like it are stopped swiftly and the perpetrators brought to justice.”

No response to the letter from Clinton as of Wednesday afternoon, according to DeLauro’s office. Nor from the U.S. State Department, which has a NetFreedom Taskforce charged with implementing Clinton’s Internet freedom policy.

[emphasis added]

I believe the State Dept. has more “dialogues” scheduled with China coming up soon in May. I wonder if it’s lost on the administration that after each dialogue or visit to China by a U.S. dignitary, the human rights abuses actually worsen, thus making a mockery of the U.S. and these U.S.-China strategic dialogues about human rights.

You can sign the petition to the Chinese government for the release of artist and activist Ai Weiwei at, here.

UPDATE: Nick Kristof wrote this commentary and he’s spot on:

Since China is in the middle of its harshest crackdown on independent thought in two decades, I thought that on this visit I might write about a woman named Cheng Jianping who is imprisoned for tweeting.

Ms. Cheng was arrested on what was supposed to have been her wedding day last fall for sending a single sarcastic Twitter message that included the words “charge, angry youth.” The government, lacking a sense of humor, sentenced her to a year in labor camp.

So I tried to interview her fiancé, Hua Chunhui, but it turns out that Mr. Hua was recently arrested and imprisoned as well. That’s the way it goes in China these days. The government’s crackdown is rippling through the country, undercutting China’s prodigious growth and representing the harshest clampdown since the crushing of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989.


Still, the crackdown represents a great leap backward, and it is particularly nasty in two respects.

First, the government is arresting not only dissidents and Christians but also their family members and even their lawyers. Second, after a long period in which police would torture working-class prisoners but usually not intellectuals, the authorities are again brutalizing white-collar dissidents.

One lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, was arrested and, by his account, subjected to beatings and electric shocks because he had represented Christians and dissidents. After a brief stint of freedom nearly a year ago, he apparently was arrested again and vanished. In China, “disappear” has become a transitive verb.

The crackdown has extended to the Internet. My teenage daughter, with me on this trip, complains that in China “everything is blocked.” By that, she means that Facebook and YouTube are walled off, access to Gmail and Google searches comes and goes, and even her homework on Google Documents is inaccessible….

This is a disgrace and no less so because China happens to be our banker.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. discourseincsharpminor permalink
    April 29, 2011 8:19 am

    I am proud of my representative. Hopefully someone in the administration will say something soon.

  2. Thain permalink
    April 29, 2011 10:26 am

    Thanks for keeping a focus on Chinese human rights, I know you care about this issue. I’m a bit disappointed with both Obama and Clinton’s posture towards the Chinese when it comes to human rights. I understand the realpolitik of it all- I know the economic problems but am I correct in thinking it’s not a one-way street? That they need us as much as we need them.

    I know a lot of people on the right like to scream about how Obama is weak because he won’t invade Iran, Syria etc. but I don’t buy into that. There’s more to strength than drone-bombing everyone. But I do think the way he handled China has made him look weak on the world stage. The way he treated the Dalai Lama was a disgrace and his refusal to get tough with them over unfair trade practices hurts us economically. I think once you send the message that you’ll cave at the first sign of pushback, then people take advantage and I think that’s what some world leaders are doing- Israel also comes to mind.

    It’s all well and good to be the Great Compromiser except when you compromise on fundamental American principles like human rights, etc. Our messaging on human rights has been confusing. Have you seen the news about Bahrain- detaining and torturing doctors who treat protesters? They are getting away with it because they house our Fifth Fleet and because we’ve allowed them to blame everything on Iran which is ridiculous. As Stacy said in a post about this every despot in that region blames outside influence and we have dismissed it out of hand, except when it is politically expedient to buy into that.

    Hillary has done a lot of great stuff regarding internet freedom but her silence on the issue you posted about is deafening. The attack on Change.Org is really unacceptable. Also, the State Dept. didn’t really do much after China attacked Google, Yahoo and all those other companies. We are a bit of a paper tiger.

    BTW Israel has detained a prominent peace activist- remember when the admin. said that Palestinians had to make their views known peacefully? And? Did you know Israel uses the same sort of emergency laws to justify this sort of abuse that countries like Egypt have? Not a peep from the administration. Don’t want to upset the J-vote, right Steve? 😉

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