Ai Weiwei endured "immense pressure" in detention: source

Wed Aug 10, 2011 11:16am EDT
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By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, whose disappearance in April caused an international outcry, endured intense psychological pressure during 81 days in secretive detention and still faces the threat of prison for alleged subversion, a source familiar with the events told Reuters.

In the first broad account of Ai's treatment in detention since he was released in June, the source, who declined to be identified fearing retribution, said the 54-year-old artist was interrogated more than 50 times by police, while he was held in two secret locations.

The questioning focused on his purported role in the planned Arab-inspired "Jasmine Revolution" protests in China in February and his writings that could constitute subversion, said the source.

That account runs counter to the Chinese government's repeated statements that Ai's detention was based on alleged economic crimes.

"What you're doing is illegal," Ai told police officers at one point, according to the source. "They said: 'Do you know before Liu Shaoqi died, he was holding the constitution...Talk about illegality, there's no difference between the country that we are in now and the time of the Cultural Revolution."

Liu, a former president, was purged and died in prison during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when paramount leader Mao Zedong turned against his comrades in the name of radical upheaval.

In the second location, where Ai was held for 67 days, the artist famed for his work on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing, was watched over by two police officers for 24 hours a day, with their faces often inches from his, watching his every movement even while his slept.

Ai had to ask the police officers for permission to drink water and use the toilet. He was not allowed to speak and was watched over by the officers even while he slept. They demanded that he put his hands on top of the blanket, the source said.   Continued...

<p>Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei speaks to members of the media in the doorway of his studio after he was released on bail in Beijing June 23, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray</p>