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Provocateur Ai Weiwei taunts US with activist piece
Washington (AFP) June 28, 2017

Activists who probed Ivanka Trump supplier released: NGO
Beijing (AFP) June 28, 2017 - Three activists who were detained last month while investigating working conditions at a Chinese factory making Ivanka Trump-branded shoes have been released on bail pending a trial, their non-governmental organisation said Wednesday.

Su Heng, Li Zhao and Hua Haifeng, who were working on behalf of New York City-based China Labor Watch (CLW), were investigating two plants owned by footwear producer Huajian Group when they were detained by police.

China said that they were being investigated on suspicion of using "spying and other monitoring equipment" while a Chinese media report cited police as saying the men had confessed to using recording devices hidden inside watches to steal "business secrets" from the factories.

Amnesty International said the men were likely taken into custody to prevent the publication of potentially "embarrassing information" about a supplier connected to US President Donald Trump's daughter.

Qiang Li, CLW director, told AFP on Wednesday the activists had informed him that "they had been released on bail for a period of one year", without providing further details.

The United States had urged Chinese authorities to release the men immediately.

"It is very rare to see defenders of the rights of workers released on bail," Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, told AFP.

"It might be due to international pressure and the nature of the case that they are released on bail," he said, adding, "we also hope that they will be given a fair trial".

The two factories under investigation by the activists were in the city of Dongguan in the southern province of Guangdong, and Ganzhou in neighbouring Jiangxi province.

They discovered that employees were forced to work overtime while being paid less than the minimum wage, according to CLW director Li, who has alleged that the factory issued fake pay slips that showed wages greater than the workers' actual compensation.

Aside from Ivanka Trump, Huajian also manufactures products for Coach, Nine West, Karl Lagerfeld, and Kendall + Kylie, Li said.

A spokesman for the company told AFP in October that it had made about 100,000 pairs of Ivanka Trump-branded shoes over the years.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is blunt. When he wanted to make a political statement about crackdowns on dissent, he brought portraits of 176 political prisoners to one of America's most infamous high-security federal prisons.

"Trace," first shown at Alcatraz prison off the San Francisco Bay in 2014, opened Wednesday in Washington for a six-month run at the Hirshhorn museum.

More than 1.2 million Lego bricks were assembled by hand to form the individual portraits, arranged on the floor in Ai's latest subversion of readymade materials.

Several of the "prisoners of conscience" chosen by Ai -- himself held under house arrest without charge for three months in 2011 and banned from traveling outside China until 2015 -- are likely to trigger debate in the United States.

Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, behind some of the biggest leaks of classified documents in US history, share the first of six zones of 30 portraits with historical figures like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen and British resident held at Guantanamo Bay without trial or charge for more than 13 years until 2015.

One of the "Trace" protagonists, former CIA officer turned whistleblower John Kiriakou, was among those who attended Ai's first ever public talk in Washington late Tuesday.

The artist -- who was interrogated more than 50 times during his house arrest for alleged tax evasion -- explained he had "wanted to do something related to prisoners who lost their freedom because of their beliefs, because they had different ideas or opinions."

"I have this understanding about why certain society doesn't like art, or hate people who have this freedom in terms of thinking or expressing themselves," said Ai. "But for me, this is the most important part of art."

- Alpaca motif -

Among the public figures featured in "Trace" is Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, long praised for her pro-democracy work in Myanmar but, since leading the government, accused of complacency toward the country's still powerful military and silence on the repression of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Other portraits feature dissidents from China, elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East who are less familiar to the Western public, such as Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, Laotian pro-democracy advocate Thongpaseuth Keuakoun and Tibetan Buddhist monk Jigme Gyatso.

"Today, you can see his art, his life, his political activism as one and the same overarching conceptual project," Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu told AFP.

While Ai professes a connection to the political prisoners due to his own activism that helped make him an international brand -- and the price China has made him pay for it -- the injustices the activists have faced are barely brushed upon in the brief biographical texts that accompany the portraits.

A specially commissioned graphic wallpaper that wraps around a 700-foot (210-meter) gallery space in the circular museum appears highly decorative at first.

Come closer, and surveillance cameras, handcuffs and Twitter birds emerge, a nod to Ai's very active use of social media that has angered Beijing.

And then there are grinning alpaca-like creatures adopted by Chinese internet users as a mascot for freedom of expression.

On their chests, Ai inscribed the Mandarin words "cao ni ma" (literally, "grass mud horse," a mythical creature resembling an alpaca, but also "fuck your mother").

"The freedoms that are entailed in social media and even technology are maybe something that we need to pay more attention to," Chiu told AFP.

"There's no space that's entirely free."

China protests alleged Indian border incursion
Beijing (AFP) June 27, 2017
China has made a formal protest after accusing Indian border guards of crossing from Sikkim state into its Tibetan territory, China's foreign ministry said Tuesday. India and China have long been embroiled in a bitter border dispute at both ends of the Himalayas, with the two countries accusing soldiers of crossing over into the other's territory. "Our position to uphold our territorial ... read more

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