Guest Post by Samiha Sobhan
At least 15 police surveillance cameras are installed within 100 meters of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s home in Beijing. Finding them is no mission impossible, since they are nicely adorned with bright red lanterns. What is the precursor to all this?
A year ago in early April, the police locked Weiwei up for 81 days in a secret location, where he was interrogated, by his account, about fifty times. Following his release, Weiwei was forced by the police not to leave Beijing, and required to ask the police for permission every time he wants to leave his compound where he works and lives. According to Weiwei, he is also the subject of rigorous and unpleasant security surveillance, which is not limited to the cameras, but includes his phones and computers as well.
So, Weiwei probably thought he was doing his government a service when he embarked upon the ambitious campaign to install four video cameras of his own marking the anniversary of his detention, chronicling all his activity and whereabouts, and streaming the live videos onto the internet, at the conveniently named website, weiweicam.com (aptly named, lest the Chinese police could not find the video footage on the internet themselves).
“In my life there is so much surveillance and monitoring – my phone, my computer,” Weiwei, 54, told the news agency Agence France Presse…so I was wondering why don’t I put some [cameras] in there so people can see all my activities. I can do that and I hope the other party [authorities] can also show some transparency.’’
The Chinese government’s response? Less than 48 hours after Weiwei started his live streaming, the Chinese government asked him to take it down, which Weiwei has, courteously.
Weiwei is well known for making statements against China’s suppression of expression. Yet it is mind-boggling to observe the Chinese police making Weiwei a fugitive in his own land by monitoring his every move, but staunchly denying him the freedom to do so himself. Clearly, the Chinese police are monitoring Weiwei’s movements closely, but it would help if they would see what they themselves are doing in the eyes of the world.