Demonstrators all over the world were sitting outside Chinese embassies on Sunday demanding the release of the detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

alg_free_weiwei.jpgAi was arrested on 3 April at Beijing airport.  His whereabouts remain unknown. As a leading cultural figure of the 21st century, Ai Weiwei has used his art in the service of justice and human rights.  His work has recognized the plight of the Sichuan earthquake victims, mothers of children killed by melamine-tainted milk, and drawn attention to historic sites threatened with destruction. The current charge of “economic crimes” is a transparent fabrication, especially as his detention comes in the wake of the arrests of hundreds of lawyers and activists who have denounced injustice and corruption and advocated for democratic movements like those in the Middle East.

Inspired by one of Ai’s installations, a Canadian curator, Steven Holmes, appealed to artists worldwide via social networking sites to  take chairs out onto the street and sit in silent protest. Thousands of people around the world did so.

As filmmaker Barbara Hammer said a the New York protest, “censorship takes many forms.” Indeed, though the arrest of an artist in punishment for his criticism of government is an extreme form of censorship, events in recent months have introduced a new urgency in confronting the problem of censorship here, in the country of free speech.

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