It seems that there is no let-up in the crackdown on Chinese dissidents, one which both preceded the flash-in-the-pan Chinese "Jasmine Revolution", and is continuing after it has fizzled. The latest victim: internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, whose sunflower seed display I went to see in London last year, and whose defiance towards the Chinese dictatorship has become steadily more forthright in recent years.
It seems that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken Ai up on the offer he made two years ago when the state security services called him over for a little chat:
"Here’s a few words: Don’t come again to find me, I will not cooperate. If you must come, then bring your instrument of punishment."
This list compiled by Custer over at the Chinageeks website tells the sorry tale of those human rights activists known to have been arrested or detained so far. The only thing I can add to what has been said by others is:
1) Given the past track-record of the CCP in this regard, do not expect an end to this crackdown any time soon. It would be natural for people to assume this is connected to next year's scheduled hand-over of power from the Hu/Wen team to the likely Xi/Li partnership. This ignores the natural logic that such things take on - once a justification, however lame, has been found for imprisioning someone, no-one is going to admit that they have made a mistake.
2) This is the real face of the CCP. Some in the China commentariat have spent years telling us that change is just around the corner with the rise of a new generation of foreign-educated leadership, and that anyway the dictatorial powers of imprisonment without trial, censorship, etc. were merely a vestigial remnant of the past which would gradually wither away. The truth is that the CCP had no intention of giving up these powers - it's existence relies on them, and there is no sign that the CCP wishes to dismiss itself from power, foreign educated or not.
3) Many have also spoken of a moderate faction within the CCP. At the moment, the best that can be said is that if this moderate faction exists, evidence of its influence is somewhat lacking.
4) Some have gotten rather depressed about this, even abandoning all hope of improvement in the situation in China, and expats among them have started talking about leaving the country*. Personally I think this is overblown. China, whilst certainly richer, is still much the same country it was when I first arrived there in 2003. If your presence in a place is predicated on it turning into something radically different, this is a somewhat foolish position to have.
[Picture: "Remembering" an installation by Ai Wei Wei displayed at his "So Sorry" exhibition at Haus der Kunst, Munich, January 2010. The display is made up entirely of school rucksacks, which spell out "Seven years, she lived happily on this Earth", a quote from the mother of a child killed when her poorly-constructed school collapsed during the Sichuan Earthquake. Via Wikicommons.]
*Jg is not actually planning on leaving the country. He's just pissed off.