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Hong Kong arrests pair over Ai Weiwei graffiti

09 may 2011, 14:49
Hong Kong has arrested two activists for spraying graffiti images of detained outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, in an action condemned by a pro-democracy group Monday as "selective persecution", AFP reports.

A rash of graffiti in support of Ai, a harsh critic of the mainland Chinese government, has appeared on the streets of Hong Kong since his April 3 arrest in Beijing for unspecified "economic crimes", which drew worldwide criticism.

The two members of Hong Kong's pro-democracy party, the League of Social Democrats (LSD), were detained on criminal damage offences Sunday after they spray-painted graffiti depicting the artist at a small rally, according to party officials and the police.

"This is wrong. Obviously this is a selective persecution," Avery Ng, the party's vice-president told AFP, saying the pair were among two dozen party supporters who were at a gathering to show support for the Chinese artist.

"The graffiti are a form of freedom of expression. The arrest was akin to helping the mainland Chinese government to crack down on dissidents," he said.

According to Ng, the LSD party members had sprayed graffiti depicting Ai's face and phrases such as "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei" at the gathering.

A police spokeswoman confirmed the activists were arrested and released on bail pending an investigation. They are required to report back to authorities on June 8.

Hong Kong, which maintains semi-autonomous status from China and enjoys civil liberties not seen on the mainland, has seen a series of protests calling for Ai's release.

Numerous stencilled, painted graffiti in support of Ai has been spotted on the streets of the financial hub since his arrest, prompting an investigation by police into possible cases of criminal damage.

Ai's image was also briefly projected onto the city's police headquarters and the Hong Kong barracks of the China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) last month, leading to a warning from the army.

The PLA -- the world's largest military force -- established bases in Hong Kong in 1997 when the territory ceased to be a British colony.

Beijing launched its toughest crackdown on government critics in years after anonymous online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests to emulate those in the Arab world.

Despite the growing international pressure calling for Ai's release, Beijing has repeatedly warned other countries not to interfere in the case.

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