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Who Are Ai Weiwei’s 4 Associates Still in Jail? [UPDATE]

Ai Weiwei surronded by his four still-missing associates: (clockwise from top left) Liu Zhengang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao, Zhang Jinsong. (image via flickr.com/[email protected])

UPDATE: Zhang Jinsong is now released on bail.

Ai Weiwei may have just been freed, but four of his associates are still missing. Wen Tao, Liu Zhenggang, Zhang Jingsong, and Hu Mingfen were arrested along with Ai Weiwei and are presumably still in prison. Besides Wen Tao, a journalist who wrote extensively on Weiwei’s works and political activity, all worked with Weiwei in some capacity. Jingsong, Weiwei’s cousin, also served as his driver, while Zhenggang, an architect, and Mingfen, an accountant, worked at FAKE Design, an architecture studio Ai Weiwei founded in 1999.  The charges against each prisoner are still unclear.

Wen Tao

After being a sports journalist for 11 years, Wen Tao, 38, worked for the English-language version of the Chinese communist paper, Global Times, but he was fired last year because of his articles with headlines like “Artists Receive Compensation For Attack” and “Ai Weiwei Takes on Ministry” — the articles appear to be no longer available on the Global Times website.

Documentarian Alison Klayman has a video interview with the journalist, including his own insights on Ai Weiwei.

According to FreeAiWeiwei.org, which has the most extensive timeline documenting the April 3 imprisonment of Ai Weiwei and those of his associates, this is the chronology of Wen Tao’s disappearance:

April 4

After going to Wen Tao’s home to care for his dog, his girlfriend Shi Jing discovers traces of his home being searched.

April 5

Shi Jing, Wen Tao’s girlfriend, files a report with the Beijing Nangao police for Wen Tao’s disappearance, but the request is rejected with no reason given.

Reporters Without Borders has this to say about Wen Tao’s disappearance:

It is clearly no coincidence that Wen Tao disappeared the same day that Ai Weiwei was arrested … It is highly likely that the authorities decided that Wen posed a problem. He was helping to disseminate Ai’s comments and was regularly covering his projects on the Internet, including Twitter. His disappearance shows that the authorities are not just targeting Ai also those who relayed his criticism of the government.

Liu Zhenggang

Liu Zhenggang, 49, is an architect and manager at Ai Weiwei’s studio, Fake Design. Freeaiweiwei.org‘s timeline says the following about Liu’s disappearance:

April 12, 2011 (ca. 2:30pm)

Liu Zhenggang’s family confirmed that at around 11:00pm on April 9, 2011, Liu was taken away by two police cars. They did not show any proof of proper procedures nor identities. He has now lost contact for 60 hours.

According to a Guardian newspaper article dated May 22:

Liu, 49, is an architect who spent little time at the studio but may have held a position at Fake. His wife declined to comment on his case, but friends say he was taken away on 9 April.

Zhang Jingsong

Zhang Jingsong, 43, is Ai’s cousin and driver. According to FreeAiWeiwei.org:

Police officers went to find him at the studio at 11:00pm on April 9, but Zhang went out with a friend and did not carry his mobile phone. His friend claimed that he returned to Caochangdi alone at 1:00am but he has not been seen for the entire day, yet his car was parked at the door. A car was parked outside the studio late last night, suspected to be related to the incident.

Before his arrest, the Guardian reports that:

In the previous week he had repeatedly asked police for information on Ai, who is his cousin as well as his employer.

… known to friends as Xiao Pang, [he] grew up in the north but moved to Beijing with his mother — Ai’s aunt — to help care for Ai’s dying father.

UPDATE: Zhang Jinsong is now released on bail.

Hu Mingfen

Hu Mingfen, 55, is the accountant for Fake Design and considering the tax charges the Chinese authorities have been trying to pin on Ai, it isn’t a surprise that Hu was apprehended.

According to a volunteer in Ai’s studio:

… [Hu] doesn’t read news and has no sense of politics …

*    *    *

And finally, Amnesty International reminds us in their press release about Ai Weiwei’s conditional release that:

Ai Weiwei is one of over 130 activists, lawyers, bloggers and tweeters detained since February in a sweeping crackdown on dissent prompted by government fears of a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ inspired by the Middle East and North Africa.

Ayano Elson & Jocelyn Silver contributed research to this post

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