April 3, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Artist Ai Weiwei arrested at Beijing airport, held incommunicado

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the fate of the famous artist and dissident Ai Weiwei (艾未未), who was arrested this morning at Beijing international airport as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong. Eight of his employees were also briefly detained today by the Beijing police. “The Chinese government is stepping up its harassment of the remaining prominent dissidents and is trying to silence all of its critics,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the international community to react firmly to the arrests of bloggers and cyber-dissidents that are taking place at an unprecedented rate, and to quickly denounce the increased harassment of foreign reporters in China which, we fear, is forcing many of them to censor themselves.” One of Ai’s assistants told Reporters Without Borders that Ai was arrested at the airport as he was going through immigration. The authorities separated him from the people accompanying him and turned off his mobile phone. Since then, Reporters Without Borders has not been able to obtain any information about his whereabouts. Eight of the people who work for him were arrested today at his studio in the northwestern Beijing district of Caochangdi and were questioned for several hours before being released. The police visited the studio several times last week. Ai was previously harassed by the authorities last November, above in connection with his documentaries about the corruption in the Beijing judicial system. When a Guardian reporter used a mobile phone to photograph the outside of Ai’s studio, plainclothes police seized the phone and deleted the photo. They also told him to leave. All mention of Ai’s arrest has been deleted from Chinese websites including the microblogging site Weibo. Beijing police officials denied being aware of his arrest. Reporters Without Borders published a report on 3 March about house arrests, disappearances and other methods used by the Chinese authorities to persecute those who defend free speech. Alarmed by the pro-democracy protests sweeping the Arab world, the authorities have been cutting off their means of communication and isolating them from their families and the rest of society. A total of 77 cyber-dissidents and 30 journalists are currently detained in China, which is ranked 171st out of 178 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders released last October.