September 20, 2017 / 7:34 PM / 2 years ago

Ai Wei-Wei critical of China at opening of Swiss exhibit

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Ai Wei-Wei denounced China’s crackdown on lawyers and free speech on Wednesday but saw little hope that the upcoming Communist Party Congress would lead to more freedoms.

Chinese artist and free-speech advocate Ai Weiwei signs his book ahead of an exhibition titled "Ai Weiwei: By the way, it's always the others" at the Musee Cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland September 20 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

The Chinese dissident artist spoke while inaugurating an exhibit in the Swiss city of Lausanne that includes some of his political works symbolizing repression.

“They are not accepting what we call common values such as democracy and freedom of speech and the freedom of religious practice and independence of the press or independence of a judicial system or people having the right to vote,” Ai told a news conference.

“China has been booming and become very powerful in the economic sense but at the same time it doesn’t trust its own people,” he said. “After 60 or 70 years in power, still its own people are not trusted to have a chance to vote.”

Asked about the five-yearly leadership reshuffle of the ruling Communist Party set to begin on Oct. 18, Ai said: “You have a party that functions more like a family. It doesn’t matter how many meetings they have, it’s always closed-door.

“So there’s no trust remaining in society.”

Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that China has launched more rigorous investigations into rights lawyers and law firms that take on politically sensitive issues.

Ai, who lives in Berlin but returns to China regularly, voiced concern about two friends who are human rights lawyers “ruthlessly put in jail” for five and 10 years, respectively.

“So the danger is there but I have no fear for myself because I have been through everything and what I have done is not for myself. It’s for my father’s generation and my son’s generation,” the 60-year-old said.

The exhibit entitled “It’s Always the Others”, on view at the Cantonal Fine Arts Museum in Lausanne until Jan. 28, brings together 46 works made in wood, jade, porcelain, bamboo, and silk, along with photographs and videos.

“Dragon in Progress”, a 50-metre-long bamboo and silk kite hung from the ceiling, transforms a traditional symbol of Chinese imperial power with quotes from imprisoned or exiled activists including Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden and Ai.

A marble sculpture, “Surveillance Camera with Plinth”, depicts a camera set up outside his Beijing studio.

“I’m a free man, that means I can go and come back. Which is fine. They kept their promise, they didn’t touch me.

“But of course when a state is not really ruled by law you can see that anything still can happen at any moment because it’s unpredictable, you’re not protected by law.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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