2011/05/16

Detained Chinese artist Ai allowed to see wife

BEIJING, May 16, 2011 (AFP) - Detained artist Ai Weiwei has been
allowed to meet with his wife for the first time since being taken
into custody in early April and appeared to be in good health, his
sister said on Monday.

Ai's wife, Lu Qing, was permitted to visit him briefly on Sunday but
the two were not allowed to discuss his case or whether the state was
ready to press formal charges against the outspoken artist, his sister
Gao Ge said.

The meeting is believed to be the first known face-to-face contact
between Ai, one of China's most prominent artists, and his family
since he was detained by police on April 3 amid the ruling Communist
Party's biggest crackdown on dissidents and activists in years.

Gao suggested the timing of the meeting might have been intended to
dispel any fears that Ai was being beaten, tortured or otherwise
mistreated. The burly artist suffers from diabetes.

"He has not been mistreated," Gao told AFP by phone, adding that he
was receiving his medication.

Ai is a vocal critic of China's government and his detention has been
met with international condemnation, with the United States and
European Union leading calls for his release.

So far, the Chinese government has said only that Ai is under
investigation for economic crimes, but police have failed to issue a
formal arrest warrant.

"Of course we would like to see him freed," Gao said. "But this is
something that is not in our power, our main goal is that they
immediately establish and register a case against him."

Chinese authorities, apparently spooked by the wave of pro-democracy
uprisings sweeping the Middle East, have detained dozens of lawyers,
artists and other perceived critics in recent weeks.

Many of the detainees have reported being beaten while in custody.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a rights lawyer and close friend of Ai who said he met
with Lu on Monday, told AFP it was unclear where the 15-minute meeting
between the artist and his wife took place but that it was not at a
police facility.

He said in a later Twitter posting that Ai appeared to be under
"residential surveillance" away from his home.

Human rights groups have criticised "residential surveillance", in
which authorities detain people for extended periods without charge,
as a violation of Chinese law.

Citing an account from Ai's wife, Liu told AFP that during the Sunday
meeting the artist appeared mostly concerned about the health of his
elderly mother.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week denounced China's
clampdown on dissent as a "fool's errand," saying Beijing was trying
to stop the course of history.

The remarks, made in an interview with The Atlantic magazine, were
some of the strongest by a senior US official on China's crackdown.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman later denounced the comment as
"inappropriate".