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Ai Weiwei’s Internet Cut, Banned From Leaving China

by Kyle Chayka on December 10, 2010

Artist Ai Weiwei (image from Tate.org)

In advance of the awarding of the Nobel Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese government severely restricted travel for a group of liberal intellectuals who they fear may have attempted to attend the ceremony. Ai Weiwei was among those banned, though the artist recently has been a magnet for political controversy himself after a planned party to celebrate a government-mandated studio demolition ended in house arrest to prevent Ai from attending. The artist’s tweets continue to provide a constant stream of updates and pay eloquent testament to Chinese political oppression.

Though Ai had been implicated as a likely attendee of Liu Xiaobo’s award ceremony, the artist says that he was planning on traveling abroad for the development of one of his art exhibitions. MSNBC reports that “Ai was waiting to board a flight for Seoul, where he was to take part in a conference.” Ai says that police “showed me a handwritten note that said my departure would endanger state security,” and was prevented from leaving. Many other prominent Chinese voices including lawyers, economists and writers have likewise been banned.

Yet Ai has a different level of security around him. The best source for updates on the artist’s status is his Twitter, which is still active despite the government’s reported cutting of Ai’s internet access. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei English, a Tumblr and Twitter account that translates Ai’s tweets, check out the following updates:

On Thursday Dec 9, Ai wrote on the status of his house arrest:

The surveillance vans without plates are stopping at their original positions outside the door again, two young people are playing with their cell phones inside.

He followed that up with the news that his telephone and internet connection has been cut:

House arrest, travel restrictions, surveillance, stopping phone service, cutting internet connection, what we can still do is to greet the crazy motherland once again.

In a chilling note, Ai says while he can’t receive calls, he can still make calls to allow the government to track his location:

Telephone reception has been stopped, but I can still make outgoing calls, as they need to wiretap and follow my position.

Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo was absent from his Nobel Prize award ceremony (image from NYTimes.com)

The New York Times reports that the Nobel Prize winner’s chair remained empty for Liu Xiaobo and that the ceremony audience was empty of the Chinese nationals that had been banned. Though ex-pat Chinese dissidents did attend, pressure from the Chinese government also precipitated an absence of envoys from 16 countries invited to the ceremony.

To me, it looks like Chinese political pressure is coming to a head for Ai and his time living with any freedom in the country may be coming to an end. Considering events of the last year, it would doubtless be safer for Ai to leave China. The artist is still fiercely loyal to the people of his country, but, he wrote on Twitter, “An advice for young people, don’t love a person or a country which you cannot freely choose to leave.”

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