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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei disappeared

April 4, 2011

There has been no trace of the famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei since his arrest on Sunday. Human rights groups are on high alert.

Ai Weiwei
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is one of the most outspoken critics of the regimeImage: dapd

The organization Reporters Without Borders is worried about the life of world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei. The Chinese government is intensifying its repression against the remaining famous dissidents and is trying to silence all critics, the organization said in a statement.

Nicholas Bequelin from Human Rights Watch in Hongkong said that Ai Weiwei's arrest is part of a long-term campaign against all critics of the regime. "The signal, plain and simple, is that no one is safe," Bequelin said. He added that a similar signal was also given by the arrest of Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. At the time, he said, many people had also thought that Liu Xiaobo was protected because of his international fame.

Earlier this year, Ai Weiwei's studio in Shanghai was destroyed
Earlier this year, Ai Weiwei's studio in Shanghai was destroyedImage: Ai Weiwei

"By escalating the pressure on Ai Weiwei, including taking him in detention, the authorities intend to intimidate and silence many other lesser known liberal figures in China," Bequelin explained.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called for an urgent explanation from the Chinese government and demanded Ai Weiwei be released without delay. During his recent trip to Beijing, Westerwelle had also emphasized the importance of human rights and freedom of opinion.

Clash with the authorities

The 53-year old Ai Weiwei was detained in Beijing as he was about to fly to Taiwan via Hongkong to prepare an exhibition, his wife told AFP. His studio in Beijing has been searched and a number of his employees were questioned.

So far, the reasons for Ai Weiwei's detention are still unclear. His close friend Zuoxiao Zhuzhou said that the artist has always had conflicts with the authorities, but this time it is different. He thinks it must be a large-scale operation.

"We can’t even reach his wife anymore," said Zuoxiao Zhuzhou. "Right before they searched his studio, there was a blackout in the whole neighborhood and the lights didn't come on again until a few hours later. We didn’t have access to the internet either."

Ai Weiwei protesting against internet censorship in China with his art work
Ai Weiwei protesting against internet censorship in China with his art workImage: Gao Yuan

Increasing oppression

Ai Weiwei is one of the harshest critics of the Chinese government. Just a few days ago he complained about the increasing oppression during an interview with the German public service broadcaster ARD. He said it was almost impossible for him to work as an artist in Beijing.

"They’ve installed two surveillance cameras at the entrance of my home. They tap all my phone calls. They control each of my tweets. My email account, my bank account and everyone I have contact with are being watched", Ai Weiwei listed the restrictions, adding that he was sure police would come and talk to him again after the interview.

Because of the repressive measures, amongst other things, Ai Weiwei had recently announced his plan to set up a second studio in Berlin.

Author: Ruth Kirchner / Anggatira Gollmer

Editor: Thomas Bärthlein