Pelosi calls for immediate release of Ai Weiwei

The top House Democrat hammered the Chinese government on Friday for the continued detention of China's most prominent artist.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is urging the immediate release of artist Ai Weiwei, as well as other high-profile community leaders and human-rights advocates who've been deemed threats to the state.

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Ai, who helped design the landmark "Bird's Nest Stadium" for Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics, has been missing since the government picked him up at the Beijing airport in the first week of April.

Pelosi used the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre to slam Chinese leaders for what she says is a failure to heed that tragedy's message, even 22 years later.

"Today, as the heroes of Tiananmen are remembered, the Chinese government intensifies its crackdown on those calling for democratic reform," Pelosi said in a statement. "In recent months, an alarming number of Chinese religious leaders, artists, lawyers, bloggers and workers have disappeared, been harassed and intimidated, forcibly detained and imprisoned."

Aside from Ai, Pelosi urged the "immediate" and "unconditional" release of Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Laureate; Liu Xianbin, a former Tiananmen protester recently imprisoned for 10 years for criticizing the government; and Gao Zhisheng, a human-rights lawyer who has been detained for more than a year.

Pelosi is no stranger to confronting China head on when it comes to issues of human rights. The San Francisco Democrat thumbed China's eye in 2008 by meeting the Dalai Lama amid Beijing’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tibet. She has also been critical of China's support for the oppressive regime in Myanmar.

Pelosi on Friday also pushed Chinese leaders to release more information about the uprising in Tiananmen Square, where Communist Party leaders used military force to clear tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists. An unknown number of protesters was killed during the episode, and many others detained in the weeks and months that followed.

"It is long past time for the Chinese government to provide a full, public accounting of the crackdown, stop persecution of the families, and finally allow the families to mourn publicly without interference," Pelosi said.

The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is Saturday.