Beijing (AFP) April 21, 2011
US ambassador Jon Huntsman hit out at the Chinese government for its detention of artist Ai Weiwei, who was voted one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine on Thursday.
"It is very sad that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens," he said in a written introduction to the artist, who is also a staunch activist, published by Time.
"Ai... has shown compassion for his fellow citizens and spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people," Huntsman, who is due to leave his post in the next few days, added.
"For the world, Ai continues to represent the promise of China."
Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah, has hinted he will be seeking the Republican nomination to challenge US President Barack Obama for the presidency next year, after he leaves his post.
Ai was taken into custody in Beijing on April 3 as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong, and is under investigation for unspecified "economic crimes". Relatives of the artist say they do not know where he is.
He repeatedly challenged Chinese authorities, investigating school collapses in the 2008 quake in the southwestern province of Sichuan, and launching a "citizen's probe" into a Shanghai fire that killed 58 people in November.
His detention -- part of a major government crackdown on dissent, which follows online calls for demonstrations in China to emulate the "Jasmine" protests that have rocked the Arab world -- has sparked an outcry in the West.
The United States, Australia, Britain, France and Germany have joined Amnesty International and other rights groups in calling for the release of Ai, born in 1957, whose work is on display in London's Tate Modern gallery.
Ai joins the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British actor Colin Firth and Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in the Time 100 -- the magazine's annual list of influential people.
earlier related report
The video obtained by the Voice of America's Tibetan service and posted on its website appears to show heavy security patrolling around the Kirti monastery in a Tibetan region of southwestern China's Sichuan province.
It also shows what the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) called the first footage of the young monk whose self-immolation last month touched off demonstrations that rights groups say provoked a heavy security crackdown.
Quoting its sources in the region, the US-based ICT also said in a statement Thursday that authorities had launched an "intensive 'patriotic education' campaign" at Kirti.
It said police, soldiers and officials went through the monastery this week, questioning monks and beating those whose answers were "not as the officials and soldiers required."
A monk in his early 20s identified as Phuntsog set himself on fire in Kirti on March 16 to mark the third anniversary of violent Tibetan riots against Chinese rule, triggering the demonstrations and causing security forces to seal off the monastery.
In one segment of the video, a young monk said to be Phuntsog sits in a car, still alive but apparently in shock with severe burns covering his body and his hair burned off.
AFP was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the footage.
Rights groups have said police temporarily cut off food supplies to the monastery and that it remained encircled.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last week the security intervention at the monastery was "inconsistent with internationally recognised principles of religious freedom and human rights."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Tuesday dismissed the US concerns, saying the situation at Kirti was "normal".
But ICT President Mary Beth Markey said in a statement the video and news from sources at Kirti indicated otherwise.
"Tensions are high in Tibet, and it will not be calmed by Party sloganeering and patriotic re-education or by other means of compulsion and the use of force," she said.
Police in Kirti have repeatedly declined comment or denied any problems when reached by AFP.
Many Tibetans resent Chinese rule, and tension erupted in violent demonstrations in March 2008 in Tibet's capital Lhasa, which spread into neighbouring Tibetan areas of China, including Kirti.
Authorities have increased security across the region since then.
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Chinese rights lawyer released amid crackdown
Beijing (AFP) April 20, 2011
A top Chinese rights lawyer has returned home after two months in police custody, his wife said Wednesday, amid a fierce crackdown on government critics and activists. Scores of other attorneys, dissidents and campaigners remain in police custody, under house arrest, or face charges in the government's onslaught against dissent, a rights group said. Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer known for tak ... read more
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