Since he was detained by authorities at the Beijing Airport on April 3, the world-renowned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei has not been heard from. But according to his sister Gao Ge, on Sunday night Chinese authorities took Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, to meet the artist for a visit that lasted less than a half-hour says the Guardian. Ai was said to be in good health and taking medications for his diabetes and high blood pressure but is being held “incommunicado in a secret Beijing-area location,” according to Ai’s attorney.
The designer of the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium, Ai has been a controversial figure in China. He is an internationally acclaimed artist who has long been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and its human rights violations. Indeed, he has used his renown as an artist to criticize China’s social and political conditions, including government corruption. Ai has supported Liu Xiaobo, the political prisoner who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year; he has demanded democracy for China and criticized the government for the death of schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In January, Ai arrived at his studio in Shanghai, only to find workers and heavy machinery knocking it down. Shortly before his detainment in April, Ai had told the German TV station ARD that there were two surveillance cameras at his gate entrance, his phone was tapped, and every message he sent on his microblog was censored by Chinese authorities.
Lu Qing had been told to be present at a police station after which she was taken to another location (she did not know where) to meet her husband. At the meeting, Ai asked about the health of his mother and family, but was not able to discuss how he is being treated or other details. Says the New York Times:
Ms. Lu said that Mr. Ai was not being held in a hospital or a jail but did not further describe his living conditions. “It appears he’s not in handcuffs, he was not wearing prison clothes and he was allowed to move freely within where he is living now,” Mr. Liu said. “So I guess it’s a form of house arrest, under supervision.”
Lu Qing also said that “many other people” were present at the meeting, some of them taking notes, says the BBC.
According to Chinese authorities, Ai’s case has “nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression” and is rather about suspected economic crimes. He has yet to be charged with a crime; his lawyer reports that his family has not been informed about what the status of the investigation against Ai is.
Many other human rights activists, artists, lawyers and others have been detained in the past few months in China; it’s speculated that authorities, alarmed in the wake of the popular uprisings throughout the Middle East, have imposed a harsh crackdown on any dissendent voices. Among those still missing are Ai’s friend Wen Tao, his driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong, his accountant Hu Mingfen and his colleague Liu Zhenggang.
Artists and human rights activists around the globe have called for Ai’s release. Hong Kong artists have started a graffiti campaign, painting a graphic that says “Who’s Afraid of Ai WeiWei?” throughout Hong Kong. Ai’s artwork continues to be exhibited in the West, in New York and Berlin where the Neugerriemschneider Gallery has hung a giant banner asking “Where is Ai WeiWei” at the front of its building.
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Photo with "Free Ai WeiWei" graffiti from Wikimedia Commons