China Pulls Plug on Artist's Webcams

Ai wants to allow the public to keep watch on him, marking the anniversary of his secret detention last year.
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Screen grab of Ai Weiwei having a meal distributed on Twitter.
Screen grab of Ai Weiwei having a meal distributed on Twitter.
Photo courtesy of @denghaoyang on Twitter.

Internet censors have removed a website linked to a set of surveillance cameras the controversial artist Ai Weiwei set up in his home so that netizens and police alike could keep an eye on him, according to a Tweet from Ai on Wednesday.

"[Four] minutes ago the cameras have been shut down," Ai posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday. "[B]yebye to all the voyeurs," he wrote.

A web feed from the cameras, positioned in Ai's bedroom, at his computer desk and in the courtyard of his Beijing home, was available at for around 24 hours before disappearing, and prompted a flurry of comments among netizens, who circulated screen grabs showing the artist and social activist in the middle of various mundane activities.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ai said he had installed them to allow everyone to keep watch on him, marking the anniversary of the beginning of his 81-day secret detention last year.

"I have always spoken out in favor of greater openness and transparency," Ai told RFA's Mandarin service. "I have also seen how much energy the government spends on keeping an eye on a single citizen's actions, all in the name of stability, naturally."

"But I don't have anything to hide," he said.

"Last year, when I was 'disappeared' for all that time, it got everyone really worried... Now I want to repay them by making sure everyone can see what I am doing," Ai said. "We should deal with fear by exercising our rights."


Ai's sister Gao Ge said the artist was already well used to surveillance.

"He just thought that if he was going to be under surveillance every day of his life, that he might as well install a few cameras and allow anyone who wants to to watch him," she said.

"He made his entire private life available, because he has had very little privacy for a very long time anyway," Gao said.

Ai has been placed under bond not to leave Beijing until June 22, a year from his release from his secret detention last spring. Gao said it still wasn't entirely clear whether Ai would have his freedom back after that date.

"A lot of things are still very unclear and murky, and it's hard to predict what will happen," she said. "But we are all looking forward to that day."

"We hope things will turn out well for us."

Authorities in Beijing last week upheld a U.S. $2.4 million tax evasion fine issued to Fake Cultural Development, the company Ai founded, in a move that has been widely seen as retaliation for his criticism of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The bill and fine were issued following the artist's detention by police at a secret location last year, which sparked an international outcry that prompted an angry response from Beijing.

Netizens and supporters have already made donations to Ai of more than U.S.$1.2 million towards meeting the bill.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Comments (1)

Anonymous Reader

Good idea of Ai's. Why should Party apparatchiks and their servants in the Public Security Bureau be the only ones in the PRC to snoop on ordinary citizens?

Apr 05, 2012 09:24 AM





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