Ai Weiwei was allowed a brief visit by his wife at an unknown location on Sunday, 43 days into his detention. According to the Toronto Star’s William Schiller, a BBC News report on the visit was allowed to play in China without the usual blackout. From the Associated Press:
“He has changed. His mood and demeanor are so different from the simple and spontaneous Ai Weiwei I know,” Lu said Monday. “It was obvious that without freedom to express himself he was not behaving naturally even with me.”
Lu said she sat face to face with her husband during the meeting in a room at an unknown location and that they were watched by someone “who seemed to be in charge of Ai,” and another who took notes. Ai repeatedly assured her he was physically OK: “My health is good. I am fine, don’t worry ….”
Lu said that during the brief meeting Ai was not handcuffed and was wearing his own clothes instead of a detention center uniform. His trademark beard had not been shaven. Still, he “seemed conflicted, contained, his face was tense.”
Lu said the people who arranged the visit, who showed her no identification, made it clear that the scope of her questions had to be kept very narrow.
“We could not talk about the economic charges or other stuff, mainly about the family and health,” she said. “We were careful, we knew that the deal could be broken at any moment, so we were careful.”
A Guardian report describes the possible legal basis for Ai’s detention:
Liu added that police had still not informed Ai’s family of his detention and that he suspected the artist was being held under residential surveillance.
“That seems the most likely explanation for why no notice has been given,” said Joshua Rosenzweig of the Dui Hua foundation, which supports political prisoners.
“The law is unclear on whether police have any obligation to notify the family because under normal circumstances it is carried out at home.”
Police must inform relatives of detention within 24 hours, unless it would impede the investigation, and report to prosecutors on the case within a month. Residential surveillance orders last around six months.
“It is supposed to be less punitive but the way it is being carried out – if it is – is really turning things on its head. It is much more advantageous to police. There are very few limits on their ability to interrogate you,” added Rosenzweig.
See also: a recent Q&A on Ai’s detention with documentary maker Alison Klayman at the Committee to Protect Journalists and a Guardian video report on Ai’s art and detention, focusing on two new exhibitions in London.
See also an Al Jazeera report from London: