China Detains Artist Ai Wei Wei, Designer of Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium
China’s crackdown on dissent continues: On Sunday, Chinese authorities reportedly detained the country’s best-known artist, Ai Wei Wei, the Guardian reports. Ai, who designed the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium, was approached by police at the immigration control at the Beijing Airport as he was to board a flight to Hong Kong for business. Police have searched his studio, confiscated computers and questioned his assistants.
According to the BBC, “China’s authorities appear on edge over calls for a so-called Jasmine Revolution, partly inspired by pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.”
Human rights activists say that the crackdown in China has been the harshest in decades with some 23 activists, lawyers, writers and others criminally detained in recent weeks on charges of incitement of subversion or creating a disturbance. Three more have been arrested and more than a dozen, including “high profile human rights lawyers,” have been missing.
The Guardian describes what appears to be investigation of Ai:
Uniformed and plainclothes police surrounded and searched his studio in Caochangdi, in the north of the capital. Power to the neighbourhood was cut off.
Men who appeared to be plainclothes officers grabbed the phone of a Guardian journalist who photographed the scene and deleted the image. A uniformed man said: “You are not allowed to be on this street. You must leave.”
A staff member told the BBC Chinese news service that officers had taken away eight of Ai’s assistants and volunteers.
A friend of the artist tweeted that most had been released but that his wife Lu Qing and two employees remained out of contact.
Police are thought to have searched two other properties relating to Ai and visited the mother of his two-year-old son.
…Ai’s assistant said, however that the artist appeared to have no particular concerns prior to his detention today. Ai’s mobile was not available and telephones at his studio rang unanswered. Posts about Ai on the popular Weibo microblog were deleted.
Ai is a controversial figure in China. He is a world-renowned artist and the son of a famous poet who is also an outspoken critic of the Chinese government’s human rights violations. In January, Ai arrived at his studio in Shanghai, only to find workers and heavy machinery knocking it down. Ai has supported Liu Xiaobo, the political prisoner who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year; demanded democracy for China; and criticized the government for the death of schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
The Chinese government has certainly been keeping watch on Ai. As he told German TV station ARD on Friday:
“There are two surveillance cameras at my gate entrance, my phone is tapped, and every message I send on my microblog is censored by them. Obviously, I am not free.”
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Photo of Ai Wei Wei in Manhattan in October of 2008 by Doctor Noe