By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing
Lu Qing, the wife of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, was detained by police without explanation for several hours on Tuesday, according to Mr Ai and other witnesses.
Four Beijing police officers arrived at the artist’s home studio at about 2pm with a summons for Ms Lu, just hours after the Financial Times visited the compound for an Mr Ai spent 81 days in detention earlier this year without being formally charged in what he and his supporters said was an effort to scare him into ceasing his scathingly satirical political commentary.
After an overwhelming international outcry, Mr Ai was eventually released, and later handed a bill for Rmb15m ($2.4m) in unpaid taxes. Mr Ai and his supporters insisted that the tax claim was a face-saving excuse for his detention and an attempt to publicly discredit him in China.
In an interview at his compound earlier on Tuesday, Mr Ai lamented the fact that some of his family, friends, employees and associates have been detained and intimidated in an attempt to silence him.
“In this system there is no negotiation, no discussion – except to tell you that they have the power to crush you any time they want, and not only you, your whole family or anybody like you,” Mr Ai said just hours before his wife was taken away.
Mr Ai said his driver, an employee in his studio office, his wife and an accountant and manager of his design company were all detained with him in April for just under three months before being released.
Even a doorman who worked at Mr Ai’s compound was detained in his home village 2,000 miles from Beijing by the secret police and returned to the capital for interrogation and two days detention.
“That was his first trip on an aeroplane in his life so he was actually quite excited,” Mr Ai said.
Liu Xiaoyuan, a prominent human rights lawyer, had his law licence revoked five months ago for publicly criticising Mr Ai’s detention. Mr Ai said the lawyer and his family were threatened with violence by state security agents if he didn’t leave Beijing.
Hundreds of activists and human rights lawyers were “disappeared” by the authorities earlier this year in a show of force aimed at silencing any opposition to one-party rule in the country.
Mr Ai has said that during his detention he was mostly interrogated about his political activism and the role the government mistakenly thought he played in anonymous online calls for a “Jasmine Revolution” of Middle East-inspired pro-democracy protests in China.
He and his supporters asked why – if the real issue was unpaid taxes – the artist was hooded and handcuffed when he was detained, and kept in an undisclosed location by security agents without any charges for almost three months. They also question why tax officials were not involved until after his release.
Two weeks ago, Mr Ai and his design company paid a deposit of Rmb8.5m to the Beijing tax authorities to allow him to contest the Rmb15m fine they say he owes.
He said about 30,000 ordinary citizens have contributed a total of about Rmb9m to help him pay the deposit by transferring funds electronically, mailing him money, and even throwing cash over the wall of his compound.
A team of volunteers was busy on Tuesday morning at his studio writing details by hand on elaborate printed paper receipts that will be mailed to each person who sent him money and Mr Ai insisted he would pay each and every one of them back eventually.