The staff of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei say they have "no information" about his whereabouts after police prevented him from boarding a Hong Kong-bound flight Monday before searching his studio outside Beijing.
REUTERS - Chinese artist Ai Weiwei remained out of contact on Monday after police prevented the combative critic of the ruling Communist Party from boarding a plane.
The detention adds to the lengthening list of dissidents held in a security crackdown by a government determined to snuff out any hint of challenges to its power as it approaches a leadership transition in late 2012.
As an artist who has exhibited in London's Tate Modern and who regularly speaks to Western media, Ai has the highest international profile of the scores of critics detained in the past two months.
Police searched his studio on the northern outskirts of Beijing, seizing some of the computers in his office, his Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said.
"They had a search order, but they didn't say what crime he had been accused of," he said.
Ai was still not contactable on Monday more than 24 hours after officials stopped him from boarding the plane to Hong Kong.
"We've had no information whatsoever," said an assistant in his Beijing studio, who asked to remain unnamed. "We don't know what the reason is at all."
She said that she was among a group of eight people in Ai's studio taken in for questioning by police on Sunday afternoon, with the artist's wife and driver later also detained.
Everyone had been released, apart from Ai, and his studio was open again, she added.
"Ai Weiwei wasn't with us. We don't know where he is," she told Reuters by telephone. "We hope that he can be released as soon as possible."
Ai has had regular run-ins with authorities over the past few years. The studio assistant said she had no way of knowing whether this time was more serious.
Ai is one of China's most famous contemporary artists. His career spans protests for artistic freedom in 1979, provocative works in the 1990s and a hand in designing the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
His public comments, activities and art are some of the loudest, most flagrantly defiant forms of speech in China today, where government controls on the Internet and traditional media constrain civil society.
Ai has never been formally arrested, despite his many brushes with the law. Last year, he was prevented from leaving the country ahead of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a prominent Chinese rights activist, Liu Xiaobo.
He was also placed under house arrest last year after an argument with the government over the demolition of his studio in Shanghai.
Date created : 2011-04-04