China said on Thursday that other countries should stop commenting on the detention of prominent artist Ai Weiwei, after Austria this week joined a growing international chorus calling for his release.
The reaction from China's foreign ministry came as Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann began a visit to China, during which he was expected to raise the case of Ai, who was taken into custody a month ago in Beijing.
"The issue is under investigation and the outside should not comment on this issue habitually," ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
"We hope that the outside can respect China's judicial sovereignty and judicial authorities handling the issue in accordance with law."
Austria said Tuesday it had summoned China's ambassador to Vienna to protest the detention of the internationally known artist, who was taken into custody as he tried to board a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong.
The Chinese government has said Ai was detained on suspicion of "economic crimes" but has provided no evidence, details or access to the accused.
Faymann, who arrived in Beijing early Thursday, has made clear that he will raise the issue of Ai's detention during meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.
China is under growing pressure to free the burly, bearded avant-garde artist, who has angered authorities with his involvement in a number of sensitive activist campaigns and his criticism of the ruling Communist Party.
Last week, US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner accused China of "serious backsliding" on human rights after two days of talks between the two countries in the Chinese capital.
Posner indicated that China had rebuffed US appeals to soften an ongoing crackdown on dissent and resolve the cases of Ai and other detained activists and dissidents.
The issue is likely to be raised again next week in Washington when China and the United States sit down for their annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard also pressed China on the detention of human rights activists during a visit to Beijing last week, but Wen denied China had taken a "backward step".
Chinese authorities have launched their toughest campaign against government critics in years after anonymous online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests to emulate those that have rocked the Arab world.
Scores of Chinese activists and rights lawyers have been rounded up since the emergence of the "Jasmine" campaign, which has gone largely unheeded.
In the latest known case, human rights lawyer Li Xiongbing -- who has represented activists, victims of religious persecution and AIDS advocacy group Aizhixing -- went missing Wednesday, his wife told AFP Thursday. -AFP