Britain and Germany urge China to free Ai Weiwei

Mon Apr 4, 2011 5:52pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain and Germany called on Monday for the release of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a prominent critic of the ruling Communist Party who was detained by police as he was about to board a plane to Hong Kong.

"I call on the Chinese government to urgently clarify Ai's situation and wellbeing, and hope he will be released immediately," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

Hague added that human rights applied under the rule of law were "essential prerequisites" to China's long-term prosperity and stability.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he had learned of Ai's detention "with great concern" and urged China to free him at once and provide an explanation of the incident.

The Tate Modern gallery in London, where Ai's huge installation "Sunflower Seeds" made up of 100 million replica porcelain seeds is on display in the cavernous Turbine Hall, also said it was concerned about his disappearance.

"We are dismayed by developments that again threaten Weiwei's right to speak freely as an artist and hope that he will be released immediately," a spokesman said.

The 53-year-old artist's detention adds to a 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.

Ai, a favorite among art collectors who often pay sizeable sums for his works at auction, has the highest international profile of scores of critics detained in the past two months.

Police searched his studio on the northern outskirts of Beijing, seizing computers, his Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said.   Continued...

<p>Chinese artist Ai Weiwei throws porcelain sunflower seeds into the air as he poses with his installation "Sunflower Seeds", in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern gallery, in London in this October 11, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files</p>