Artist and vocal dissident Ai Weiwei is in police custody for the second straight day. On Sunday, he was detained along with eight studio employees. They were questioned and released but Ai’s exact whereabouts remain unknown. The 53-year-old artist was stopped by Chinese police while boarding a plane from Beijing to Hong Kong.
Dozens of dissidents, including high profile human rights lawyers, have been detained over the past six weeks as part of an aggressive crackdown on pro-democracy activists. The government is attempting to stamp out opposition in advance of the 2012 elections.
One of Ai’s assistants, among those taken in for questioning, told Reuters:
“We’ve had no information whatsoever. We don’t know what the reason is at all.” Ai’s wife and driver were brought in later and released. His assistant said, “Ai Weiwei wasn’t with us. We don’t know where he is.”
Following Ai’s detention, police blocked the streets surrounding his studio and conducted a search. Laptops and computer equipment were confiscated.
As reported by the Guardian, Ai is setting up a studio in Berlin and he would likely divide his time between Europe and China. It is expected to take two years to build the space.
Despite his international prominence, Ai is frequently targeted by officials for his outspokenness. Last year the regional government demolished Ai’s newly built Shanghai studio and he was placed under house arrest after announcing a party would be held there prior to the razing. He was also prevented from boarding a flight in December, in advance of the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to jailed writer Liu Xiaobo. Earlier run-ins included a police beating that led to surgery while Ai was in Germany.
Joshua Rosenzweig, head of the Hong Kong office of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights organization, told the Wall Street Journal that the current crackdown is unusual in China. because it targets individuals expressing political views rather than organizing political activity.
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