Late last night the Chinese government acknowledged officially for the first time that artist Ai Weiwei was being detained. Well, kind of.
The official Xinhua news agency noted in a one-line report that police are investigating Ai over ‘suspected economic crimes.’ However, his detention wasn’t specifically mentioned, and there was no comment on his friend Wen Tao, who is also believed to have been detained Sunday.
Speaking to AP, Ai's wife, Lu Qing, said the couple had received several visits from police in the week leading up to his detention.
‘He told me something might happen to him,’ she reportedly said. ‘This is very serious. So many people searching the house and it’s been more than 48 hours since I've heard from him. I'm very worried about his situation, especially his health.’
Interestingly, outgoing US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman gave a forceful speech covering the issue of rights and freedom in Shanghai yesterday, in which he specifically mentioned Ai’s detention.
Speaking at the Barnett-Oksenberg Lecture, Huntsman said: ‘Long after I depart Beijing, future Ambassadors will continue to visit American citizens like Dr Feng Xue, who was wrongfully convicted of stealing state secrets and is now serving an eight-year sentence in prison far from his family in the United States. They will continue to speak up in defence of social activists, like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and now Ai Weiwei, who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times.’
Meanwhile, there are reports that another prominent human rights lawyer who has previously been targeted by the authorities is being detained as part of the ongoing crackdown. Chinese netizens have said Ni Yulan and her husband were taken from a Beijing hotel room this morning.
Back in November 2008, authorities reportedly destroyed her home in front of her ‘distraught’ husband ‘who pleaded with the government to release her from jail.’
‘Up to 200 police surrounded the central Beijing courtyard home of activist lawyer Ni and her husband, Dong Jiqin, as a bulldozer demolished the final sections of the property,’ AFPreported. ‘Ni is a long-time campaigner against government-backed land grabs and had organised evicted residents to protest what they said were the illegal forceful eviction and demolition of homes.’