Artist's Studio Marks Quake

Colleagues of Ai Weiwei carry on the detained Chinese artist's work.
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A screen grab from the video marking the third anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.
A screen grab from the video marking the third anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.
Courtesy of Ai Studio

Supporters of detained Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei have released a video to mark the third anniversary of the devastating Sichuan earthquake, a focal point for many of Ai's activities.

An employee at Ai Weiwei's studio said they had released the video in honor of the victims of the May 12, 2008 quake, in which more than 70,000 people died.

"We had pretty much finished editing this film back when he was still at home," the employee said. "All we are doing now is releasing it onto the Internet."

"Then we will pass the link around, and a lot of people overseas will put it onto video sites like YouTube, so a lot of people will see it."

Ai, 53, was detained on April 3. Apart from a brief reference to his investigation for "economic crimes," the authorities have remained silent on his case, and his relatives have yet to receive formal notification of his whereabouts.

Harrowing interviews

The video consists of harrowing interviews with black-clad parents whose children died in the quake, and who have braved beatings, official harassment, and detentions in an attempt to protest alleged shoddy construction in the quake-hit schools.

"When I rushed over to the school, none of the houses in the area had collapsed, including older houses that were built back in the 1960s," said bereaved parent Liu Yuting.

"There were some that had got cracked, but they didn't collapse. The only ones that collapsed were a few school buildings," she said.

Liu said when she arrived at the scene of the school in Sichuan's Beichuan county, she saw nothing but a pile of rubble.

"There was no framework left, just a pile of dust," said Liu, who never found her child.

Another father who was among the many parents calling for an investigation into allegations of official corruption described how he was beaten while in police detention on a trip to petition over the death of his daughter.

"They got me by my arms and hair and smashed my head down, then they kicked me," he said.

"There was one policeman who told me when we went to petition at the provincial government that he would kill me if he wasn't a police officer."

Parents harassed

Parents of thousands of schoolchildren who died during the devastating quake say they are being harassed by the authorities ahead of the three-year anniversary.

Lawyers have been warned off accepting cases linked to Sichuan's child quake victims, on pain of losing their license to practice.

Since the quake, parents have vowed to keep up pressure on Beijing for a full investigation into charges of corruption and shoddy school construction, which many say is responsible for the deaths of at least 5,300 schoolchildren in the earthquake.

Activists led by Ai have also campaigned to identify thousands of the children who were killed.

Ai posted the names, ordered according to their Chinese character stroke order, on his Twitter account in time for the second anniversary last year, which is followed by more than 30,000 people.

He also posted online an audio file more than three hours long in which volunteer netizens from all over China read out the names of the children who died, in a somber protest against the government’s refusal to allow any kind of public inquiry into their deaths.

Sichuan authorities have already jailed one activist, writer Tan Zuoren, after he carried out an independent investigation into the children’s deaths and published it online.

Activist artist

Ai was named by Time magazine last month as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, amid growing calls for his release.

Ai's detention has drawn criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as Amnesty International and other international rights groups.

But Beijing has brushed off the international outcry, saying only that Ai is under investigation for "economic crimes" and publishing articles critical of his "maverick" attitude in official media.

The social action website hosted a petition calling for the release Ai that garnered more than 90,000 signatures, but later came under attack from hackers traced to IP addresses in China.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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