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Activist: China trying to silence critics

By Tom Evans, CNN
  • Ai Weiwei criticized for collection of names of students killed in 2008 quake
  • New technologies that enable overcoming "Great Firewall" available to few, he says
  • Google appears to be moving closer to leaving China in showdown over censorship

(CNN) -- Leading Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei declared that China's government has no humanity -- and that the Communist Party is trying to silence anyone who disagrees with it.

"They crack down on everybody who has different opinions -- not even different opinions, just different attitudes," Ai told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

"Simply to have different opinions can cost (dissidents) their life; they can be put in jail, can be silenced, and can be disappeared," he said.

Ai is no stranger to controversy or danger. He helped design the iconic Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but then called for a boycott of the games because in his opinion China was using them as propaganda.

He also faced a barrage of official criticism in 2008 when he assembled activists to collect the names of thousands of unidentified students who were killed in the massive Sichuan earthquake. He also slammed local governments for allowing the construction of shoddy schools that collapsed.

Ai has paid a heavy price for his dissent. He says he was beaten in a hotel room by Chinese police and later needed emergency brain surgery for injuries he suffered in the assault.

Even as Ai spoke to CNN, Google appeared to be moving closer to leaving China in a showdown over Internet censorship and hacking from inside the communist nation.

Simply to have different opinions can cost (dissidents) their life
--Ai Weiwei, Chinese activist and artist
  • China
  • Chinese Politics

Popular Western social networking sites are already banned from China. "There's no Twitter in China, there's no YouTube in China, now we'll have no Google in China," Ai said.

"They shut down three of my blogs in seven minutes, so you can see how fearful (Chinese officials are) about somebody speaking out their mind."

He said 12 million people were reading his blog posts until they were closed.

Ai though said there are new technologies that can help people overcome what he called the Great Firewall, but it's available to only a small number of people.

"Now we have about 50,000 people -- writers, editors, journalists -- who can get the information. And they can get whatever we say in the West," he added.

"It has a great effect on the government. Young people see what we are talking about on Twitter and blogs (and) they would speak the words to different kinds of media. So that can have great potential, if millions of people read them."

Ai said he believes new technology is the only way to bring change to China and he's convinced it will happen one day.