Amnesty condemns detention of Chinese-Australian artist

BEIJING (AFP) - Amnesty International has denounced Beijing's detention of a Chinese-Australian artist ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, calling the move part of a "merciless campaign of repression".

Artist Guo Jian, 52, was taken away from his Beijing home by police on Sunday night, associates said, one day after the publication of a Financial Times interview in which he revealed his work on a Tiananmen-themed art installation.

"Guo Jian is the latest victim of the Chinese authorities' merciless campaign of repression ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary," Mr William Nee, China researcher for Amnesty International, said in a statement late Monday. "He along with the scores of others detained for peacefully speaking out about the bloodshed of 1989 must be immediately released," Mr Nee said. "This current wave of detentions ahead of 4 June is harsher than in recent years."

Mr Guo, a former soldier and pro-democracy protester, revealed in the interview that he had created an artwork to privately commemorate the anniversary, covering a large diorama of Tiananmen Square with 160kg of minced meat. Editions of the Financial Times available in Beijing appeared to have been subjected to censorship over the weekend, with the section carrying the interview with Guo removed, and some hotels not receiving copies of the paper.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that it was troubled by reports of Mr Guo's detention and that the Australian embassy in Beijing had contacted Chinese authorities to seek further information.

June 4 marks the 25th anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, during which hundreds of people were killed - by some estimates more than 1,000. China censors any mention of the crackdown and has ramped up already strict controls ahead of the anniversary.

Police have detained some 20 prominent liberal academics, lawyers and activists in recent weeks, according to the US-based group Human Rights in China. Among them are Mr Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most celebrated human rights lawyers, and Ms Gao Yu, a veteran reporter previously jailed for her writing on the Tiananmen protests.

Foreign news organisations in China have also been warned against reporting on the anniversary, with some correspondents and local staff summoned by police, given videotaped lectures and warned of "serious consequences" should they disobey, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

Last week, the Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei confirmed that one of its Chinese staff members, Xin Jian, had been detained after interviewing Pu. Amnesty denounced such moves as an effort by China's ruling Communist Party to intimidate journalists and their sources, which it said reveals "the deplorable lengths the authorities are prepared to go in their efforts to wipe the bloodshed of 1989 from memory".