Interrogators threatened me, says Ai's assistant
A female assistant of maverick artist Ai Weiwei, who is in her 30s, says she was threatened and verbally abused by a plain-clothes police officer and denied access to the toilet during four hours of interrogation at a Beijing police station on Thursday.
Her interrogators mainly focused on questions about Ai's independent investigation into the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in which he collected details of 5,000 children killed when school buildings collapsed.
They also asked how much Ai earned and paid to his assistants and where he sold his artworks, Liu Yanping, who was summoned by the Nangao police station in Beijing's Chaoyang district, said yesterday.
'A uniformed policewoman first searched my body and my bag to confirm that I wasn't carrying any recording equipment as soon as I arrived around 6pm,' Liu, said, adding that a uniformed policeman then started to ask about the detailed operations of Ai's workshop.
'I told them that I joined the workshop as a volunteer to help Ai's Sichuan earthquake research work, so I didn't know anything about Ai's financial status,' Liu said.
'A plain-clothes officer who claimed his surname was Zhao then appeared and interrogated me.' Liu said Zhao swore at her and threatened to punish her husband if she refused to co-operate with him.
'He even pulled me down onto a chair ... when I asked to go to the toilet after more than two hours' interrogation,' Liu said. 'The two uniformed officers were just watching while Zhao was humiliating me ... and I was only allowed to go to the toilet after they agreed I could leave around 10pm.'
Meanwhile, the Global Times - a newspaper under the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official mouthpiece - published a second article yesterday on Ai's detention, saying that investigating him for economic crimes did not necessarily mean he would be convicted. 'But whether Ai will be convicted should be decided by court hearings. Pressure from Western countries' diplomats and public opinion shouldn't be bargaining chips,' the article said.
But the commentary also said the authorities should be 'more prudent when deciding to arrest public figures [like Ai]' next time, with strong evidence prepared before taking action. At a news conference on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed a report by Xinhua that Ai was being investigated by police for economic crimes. But the ministry's website omitted all references to Ai from its official transcript of that news conference.
Ai's family had not received any official notification about Ai's whereabouts by yesterday. He was taken away by border police while trying to board a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong on Sunday. His wife, Lu Qing, sent letters yesterday to the Ministry of Public Security and municipal legal departments asking for answers about Ai's detention.