Ai Weiwei 'detained' at airport
One of China's most famous and controversial artists, Ai Weiwei , was stopped from leaving Beijing for Hong Kong yesterday morning and appeared to have been detained, with his studio in the capital city raided by police afterwards.
Political activist Ai (pictured) was barred from boarding the Hong Kong-bound flight at Beijing Capital International Airport at about 9am, leaving his companion to fly alone, according to one of his assistants, who declined to be named.
'Ai was heading for Taiwan for an art exhibition via Hong Kong,' said the assistant, adding that the trip had nothing to do with politics.
It was not immediately clear why he was taken away.
'He has been out of reach since he was taken away by two border officers [at the airport],' the assistant said. 'He would certainly have called us if he were free. But no, he has not phoned us yet. He may have been detained.'
An officer at the airport branch of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau declined to confirm if Ai was being held. 'There would be a record in our computer system if he was detained, but there is none,' he said.
Ai's assistant said that after the airport incident, more than a dozen policemen cordoned off an area of 50 metres around Ai's studio in Beijing's Chaoyang District and cut off power supply in the neighbourhood. They also took away Ai's colleagues for questioning, he said.
Police also visited the studio three times last week, purportedly to conduct fire safety inspections and check the passports and mobile phone numbers of foreign staff, he said.
Qian Feifei , one of eight staff members who were taken away at 11am, said last night after her release that seven of them were allowed to leave at 7.30pm, leaving Ai's wife and his driver at the police station.
'Up to 50 police officers, either in uniform or plainclothes, came in with a search warrant in the morning. Almost all the computers, discs and notebooks had been confiscated by the time we returned to the studio in the evening,' Qian said.
'During the 81/2 hours in the police station, they kept asking us simple questions about our relationship with Ai and why we were in his studio. We haven't a clue where he is.'
Ai, a co-designer of the 'Bird's Nest', the National Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is an outspoken critic of the central government. His Shanghai studio was torn down in January after officials said he had failed to follow planning procedures, although Ai maintained it was linked to his political activism.
He is apparently the latest to be targeted in a renewed crackdown on political dissent. Beijing has arrested or detained dozens of lawyers, writers and activists since February, when online calls began for protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa.
In the past week, three activists have been formally arrested on subversion charges for their alleged roles in spreading rally calls online.
It is the second time Ai has been blocked trying to leave the mainland. The artist, 53, was stopped from boarding a flight for Seoul in December, less than 10 days before dissident writer Liu Xiaobo was honoured as the Nobel peace laureate.