Artist's Wife Questioned

Chinese authorities say an artist and government critic is being held only for 'economic crimes.'

Ai holds a piece of debris after authorities demolished his newly built Shanghai studio, January 11, 2011.

The wife of detained Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei, who is currently being investigated for "economic crimes," has been questioned by Beijing tax authorities.

Ai's wife Lu Qing said on Tuesday that the local tax office called her in for an interview that lasted three hours.

"They took records of all the business done and the transactions made by the company," Lu said. "It was all of that stuff."

But she declined to comment on whether the interview was linked to Ai's detention, saying that Ai wasn't the same thing as his company.

"I can't really guess whether this has to do with Ai Weiwei's being taken away," Lu said.

The authorities have also detained Liu Zhenggang, an architect employed by Ai's company, she said.

"It was on [Saturday] evening," Lu said. "He was walking around in the residential compound with his wife, and he was taken away by three or four men in uniform."

"There has been no news of him since," she added.

Colleague detained

A former employee at Ai's studio also surnamed Liu said she believed a former colleague surnamed Hu had also been detained by the authorities.

"We don't know exactly when it was that she disappeared, because it was over the holidays," Liu said.

"But no one has been in touch with her."

Meanwhile, Ai's mother Gao Ge said on Tuesday that she had received a call from someone claiming to be from the local court.

"He told me there was an information docket they wanted us to pick up at the court," Gao said. "He wanted an identity card number, and I refused to give it to him."

"I told them to send it over... If they don't, we'll ignore it," she said.

China confirmed last Thursday that Ai was under investigation for "economic crimes."

Calls rebuffed

Beijing has brushed off recent calls for Ai's release from Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, whose outgoing ambassador Jon Huntsman mentioned Ai's detention in a recent speech.

Chinese authorities sometimes try to silence critics by accusing them of tax violations or other nonpolitical crimes.

Ai is the most famous target so far in a recent crackdown on dissidents apparently sparked by anonymous online calls for a "Jasmine revolution" inspired by recent uprisings in the Middle East.

An official editorial said last week that his actions were "ambiguous" in law, and close to a "red line."

Ai, 57, is a top artist who helped design Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium for the 2008 Olympics and is currently exhibiting his "Sunflower Seeds" installation at London's Tate Modern gallery.

An inveterate Twitter user, Ai has taken part in a number of campaigns to protect the most vulnerable in Chinese society, including an online memorial installation which recorded the names of thousands of children killed in the collapse of school buildings during the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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