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BREAKING: Ai Weiwei Arrested and Detained in Beijing, Current Status Unknown [LIVEBLOG]

by Kyle Chayka on April 3, 2011

For the latest news on Ai Weiwei, please see this post.

A recent photo of Ai Weiwei at his studio (photo by Dan Chung) (image via guardian.co.uk)

Reports have been flying from Twitter that approximately 14 hours ago just before a planned flight to Hong Kong, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been arrested and detained at the Beijing airport. 10 hours ago (Sunday morning Beijing time), police raided Ai’s studio on the outskirts of Beijing. Ai’s status is now unknown: his phone is off, and power has been cut to the studio.

The Guardian has the first official report of the events. Here are the details of the arrest:

Ai was due to fly to Hong Kong for business this morning, but was detained at immigration on his way out of Beijing. An officer told an assistant who was travelling with him that the artist had “other business” and could not board the plane.

Between 15 and 20 uniformed and plain clothes police surrounded his studio in Caochangdi, in the north of the capital, and more were believed to be searching it. Power to the neighbourhood was cut off.

No reporters have been able to get an update out of the Chinese police or airport staff. Ai has been arrested and detained before, notably placed under house arrest around the time that his Shanghai studio was forced to be demolished. Spectators are wondering if this most recent arrest will present a short warning, as before, or if it could signal something greater.

In further censorship, all messages about Ai Weiwei have been deleted from Sina Weibo, China’s national version of Twitter. Guardian China correspondent Jonathan Watts biked to Ai’s studio complex, but an attempt to take a picture was blocked by plainclothes policemen.

This news comes at the same time as Ai’s announcement that he will be building a studio complex in Berlin as a haven from the harsh Chinese political environment. New Yorker China correspondent Evan Osnos notes that the Chinese government is in the midst of the biggest crackdown on free expression “in years,” taking into custody lawyers, writers and intellectuals.

Resources:

  • At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos files a report, noting that all of Caochangdi (the location of Ai’s studio) seems to be occupied by plainclothes cops. Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, is being kept at the studio by police. Osnos also says that this arrest seems to signal a new magnitude of pressure on Ai by the Chinese government.
  • The last tweet from Ai Weiwei’s Twitter account was six hours ago, with the update that Liu Xiaoyuan was taken to the Chaoyang (a Beijing district) national police station. The Twitter account might give us the first update we get on Ai, so worth paying attention to.
  • Kathleen McLaughlin has a report on GlobalPost. Joshua Rosenzweig of the Duihua Foundation, which tracks detentions and other human rights issues in China, notes that if the Chinese government is willing to tackle someone with the international stature of Ai Weiwei, they will show no compunction in arresting lesser-known intellectuals.
  • The Washington Post has just published a strong look at the background to Ai’s arrest, including the Chinese “Jasmine Revolution.” The article notes that several spectators see the government “redrawing the lines of permissible expression” in China.
  • For background on Ai Weiwei and the current political situation for the artist in China, plus footage of his (now blocked) studio, see PBS Frontline’s video report Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?
  • Below, find a series of Tweets that tracked Ai’s arrest in real time. Some tweets may not show up given difficulty connecting to Twitter. Stay tuned for updates.

Latest News:

12:53 AM EST: The AP has an interview with Ai’s wife Lu Qing and notes that police are silent on why Ai has been detained.

Translation: The only people we still haven’t heard from are Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao.

 

12:13 AM EST: See Alison Klayman’s site for the latest updates. Wen Tao is unaccounted for, internet is off in Caochangdi.

9:41 PM: Ai Weiwei Never Sorry filmmaker Alison Klayman reports that Ai’s assistant Xu Ye, who was to be released as of early this morning Beijing time, is now free. Wen Tao remains unaccounted for.

2:48 PM: SOME CONTEXT: As I’ve noted, Ai’s arrest has come at a time of increasing scrutiny from the Chinese government on “dissidents”, anyone who happens to be less than friendly to the government’s political and social policies. This newest wave of oppression seems to have been kicked off by the “Jasmine Revolution,” a Chinese response to the revolutions in the Middle East calling for protests against the Chinese government. Ai is loosely affiliated with the efforts, having tweeted his support.

There have also been rumblings of ex-pats leaving China for fear of increasing pressure. Jim Gourley’s “Next Stop: Oblivion” is an important critique of the current climate. Evan Osnos defines the high pressure moment as “The Big Chill,” with writers, lawyers and cultural figures getting arrested and disappearing without explanation. China Geeks has a significant list of who has been arrested, detained or has disappeared.

Though Ai Weiwei is the most significant figure to be affected, the arrest is a symptom of a larger move in China towards stronger political oppression. We have to be sure to keep our eyes on other figures that have gone missing, those without the same visibility as Ai. That visibility may keep him safe. To be sure, if Ai were to disappear, there will be an international outcry against China. See this Washington Post report for a good look at the background to the arrest incident.

No other updates on Ai so far.

2:10 PM: News is slowing down but we’re still watching.

1:38 PM: According to sources in China, and suggested by several tweets as well, the entire art district neighborhood of Caochangdi is shut down and entirely occupied by police. Ai’s studio is only one small part of that larger neighborhood.

1:21 PM: BBC has a Chinese-language audio report on the events. General translation: It says Ai’s family is safe, though Ai can’t be contacted. The studio is surrounded by police. The reporter doesn’t know the reason why the police raided the studio. The reporter also doesn’t know why Ai was going to Hong Kong.

12:59 PM EST: According to the latest Chinese update from @duyanpili, Ai’s wife Lu Qing was told to wait at home for news of the artist. 100s of electronic devices were confiscated from the studio, including harddrives, laptops, CD roms, etc. Ai’s studio assistants Xiao Pang and Xu Ye have been released from police custody as well.

12:46 PM: Ai Weiwei’s wife Lu Qing has been released from police custody, says Art Asia Pacific. AWWNeverSorry, the feed of China journalist and documentarian Alison Klayman, confirms the news.

12:28 PM EST: Ai Weiwei Never Sorry’s Twitter reports that police are still at Ai’s home and have searched his two year old son’s residence. Police have just returned to the scene, according to studio insiders.

This post will be updated as the news comes in. There’s not much to live update since the news will undoubtedly be slow, but I’ll tweet from @chaykak when I post news.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julie-Torres/807740186 Julie Torres

    great reporting kyle, please keep us updated!

  • www.debubarve.blogspot.com

    Thank you for keeping the would posted about him.

  • Jeffrey

    dude, get out of China.

  • http://twitter.com/FSS34 Signature 10391

    To: #China ~ FACE YOUR FEAR! #RT this OVER 9000! | #Aiweiwei 是上帝, 自由 @aiww! 您是神。 释放自己! | .:. https://twitter.com/FSS34/status/54573789320708096

  • Mamagriff50

    Why are we,US, even dealing with China? They still opress, just like Libya…

  • Mysterious Stranger

    Nuke them. Force the U.S. to start producing it’s own steel again and give the people of America the middle class back. And also eliminate the upcoming threat. But by that very same mantra we should also nuke wall street. I don’t actually believe in nuking anyone but what is more dangerous wall street or china. wall street has been controlling our politicians for years and destroying the backbone of America. Its middle class. I wonder if bigger threats lie elsewhere other than China.

    • Mysterious Stranger

      Also yes, America makes its dissidents disappear as well. It is just much more well hidden by the American flag.

  • Stephanietamez

    Thank you for this information.

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