China says top artist will "be punished"

BEIJING - The world has watched in awe as popular uprisings spread through Arab countries. Now, the call for change can be heard in places like China. But authorities there have responded by arresting opponents - including a world-renowned artist, Ai Weiwei.

As CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports, the government  said Friday he'll "be punished according to the law," though he hasn't been charged with any crime.

Protesters around the world are demanding Communist authorities release Ai, China's most famous living artist,. He disappeared into police custody over a month ago, terrifying his mother.

"Save my son," Gao Ying said. "I hear they're treating him cruelly."

Where is Ai Weiwei?

Ai has a global following. His latest sculptures were unveiled in New York's Central Park just last week.

In China, Ai i was once a government favorite - even helping design the Olympic stadium. But after 2008's Sichuan earthquake, the artist began a campaign to blame those responsible for the collapse of poorly-constructed schools that killed thousands of children. His crusade made him an enemy of the state - leading to a brutal police beating in 2009.

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Ai's case is high-profile but it's not unusual. Unknown numbers of bloggers, activists, defense lawyers and artists are being taken way increasingly often - without any official legal proceedings. Foreign journalists also face police hostility.

This is the most severe crackdown against any opposition to the ruling Communist Party since 1989's violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Memories of 1989 came flooding back when the "Jasmine Revolution" protests began toppling governments in the Middle East. The Chinese characters for jasmine are even blocked on China's state-censored Internet.

"They want to show people that the one-party state, the Communist Party state system is there, and it's permanent and is not to be changed," says "The China Fantasy" author James Mann.

Religious dissidents are under fire too. Last month, police detained hundreds of Christians attending services unapproved by the government - a move that worries underground church pastor Xu Yonghai. "We are always under surveillance now," he said.

Xu's congregation sings a prayer for courage. In this troubled period, anyone who stands up to the Chinese government -- whether unknown or well-known - none of them are safe.

  • Celia Hatton

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