Chinese artist Ai Weiwei missing after arrest
Apr 4, 2011, 7:57 GMT
Beijing - Supporters and assistants said they had no news of renowned artist and rights activist Ai Weiwei on Monday, nearly 36 hours after border police stopped him from boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
Ai's mobile phone and two numbers used by Beijing-based assistants were switched off all day, while Chinese authorities and state media were silent on the artist's detention.
Police continued to search Ai's main studio and had cut off internet connections to the compound in Beijing's outlying Caochangdi district, staff said.
An assistant who was with Ai at Beijing's Capital International Airport on Sunday morning said police did not tell her why they detained Ai.
'They didn't really explain why they were taking him,' the assistant, who took the flight to Hong Kong as planned, told the German Press Agency dpa by telephone.
'They said he had 'other business' and couldn't board the flight,' she said.
Police took eight of Ai's staff to a local station for questioning but released them late Sunday.
They also seized about 30 computers at the studio, his staff said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday appealed to the Chinese government to release Ai.
'I appeal to the Chinese government to urgently provide clarification, and I expect Ai Weiwei to be released immediately,' Westerwelle said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.
London-based Amnesty International and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also called for Ai's release.
Amnesty said Ai's detention was part of a 'chilling' crackdown following calls last month for anti-government protests.
'If the authorities are so bold as to grab this world-renowned artist in broad daylight at Beijing airport, it's frightening to think how they might treat other, lesser known dissidents,' Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders said the Chinese government was 'stepping up its harassment of the remaining prominent dissidents and is trying to silence all of its critics.'
Many fellow rights activists continued to post messages of support on the microblogging site Twitter on Monday.
An online petition for Ai's release, organized via Twitter, had registered 530 supporters by Monday evening.
Ai's detention and the raid on his studio came amid the ruling Communist Party's toughest crackdown for many years against rights activists.
The Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Defenders said authorities had placed more than 200 activists under some form of house arrest since mid-February, when anonymous organizers called for 'Jasmine' rallies across China.
At least 26 activists were formally arrested on criminal charges while more than 30 had disappeared, the group said.
In a telephone interview with dpa last Tuesday, Ai, 53 said he planned to open a new studio in Berlin partly in response growing interference in his work by the Chinese government.
He has become increasingly active in China's human rights movement in recent years.
In September 2009, he underwent surgery in Germany for a cerebral haemorrhage that he said was caused when he and other activists were attacked in his hotel in the central city of Chengdu during the trial of rights activist Tan Zuoren.
Ai has gained an international reputation for his wide range of artworks, installations and performances. He was an artistic consultant for the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.
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