China police silent on Ai Weiwei detention

Chinese police held Ai Weiwei at Beijing`s international airport on Sunday.

Updated: Apr 04, 2011, 11:24 AM IST

Beijing: Police in Beijing have refused to explain why they detained outspoken Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei, his wife said on Monday, amid fears that authorities are expanding a crackdown on dissent.

The prominent artist -- who helped design Beijing`s famed "Bird`s Nest" Olympic stadium -- was taken into custody on Sunday at Beijing`s international airport as he prepared to board a flight, Lu Qing said.

"As he was being detained, police came to the house with a search warrant and searched everywhere," Lu said by telephone.

"They took the computer, computer disks and other materials. They refused to say why the search warrant was issued or why Ai Weiwei was taken away."

Several of Ai`s assistants were also detained for questioning on Sunday, but later released, said Lu, adding that she was not under house arrest.

Beijing police have refused to comment on Ai`s detention.

The artist`s detention comes after scores of dissidents, activists, and right lawyers have been rounded up in recent weeks, with many placed under house arrest or disappearing into police custody.

The clampdown followed anonymous online calls which emerged in February for protests each Sunday around the country to demand political change in China -- aimed at emulating those that have rocked the Arab world.

Ai`s disappearance drew immediate concern from numerous human rights groups.

"The Chinese government is stepping up its harassment of the remaining prominent dissidents and is trying to silence all of its critics," the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said.

"We urge the international community to react firmly to the arrests of bloggers and cyber-dissidents that are taking place at an unprecedented rate."

A frequent critic of China`s Communist Party leaders, Ai -- who investigated school collapses in the massive 2008 earthquake in the southwestern province of Sichuan -- has repeatedly run into problems with the authorities in the past.

He told last week that he planned to set up a studio in Germany to show his work, explaining he was fed up with the hurdles of exhibiting in China.

"It`s very discouraging what`s happening here and if I want to continue to develop my work, I have to find a base," said the burly, goateed avant-garde artist.

Ai`s personal cell phone has been turned off and no new postings have been seen on his Twitter site.

Postings on his Chinese micro-blog webpage have been deleted and news of his detention appears to have been stripped from major Chinese news portals.

Searches on his name in Chinese on microblogging site Sina Weibo produce no results.

"Since mid-February, the government has stepped up pressure on activists and rights defenders and in recent days the oppression has become more stifling," the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in a statement on Ai`s detention.

"The continued oppression of democracy activists, lawyers, rights defenders, artists, ordinary Internet bloggers and petitioners has shocked and worried all those concerned with China`s human rights situation."

Bureau Report