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Police question wife of Chinese activist

The wife of Ai Weiwei was questioned by Chinese police for several hours Tuesday. She described what happened to NBC News.

BEIJING – The wife of Ai Weiwei was questioned by Chinese police for several hours Tuesday in what appears to be a growing campaign against the outspoken artist and activist.

Ai Weiwei dismissed his wife’s police interrogation as a “pressure” tactic. “They are trying to put pressure on me,” Ai told NBC News in a phone interview after his wife was released.

But Ai’s long-running battle with authorities over tax evasion allegations – which critics say were meant to silence the politically outspoken artist—took a dangerous new turn when his wife was taken away by the police for questioning as a “criminal suspect.”

“It’s doesn’t make sense,” Ai said. “They can come to me directly.” He said his wife, Lu Qing, is “not involved” in politics.

Criminal case?
Lu, the legal owner of the cultural company that manages Ai’s art projects, was suddenly taken away Tuesday by four policemen, one of them holding a video camera, and subjected to more than three hours of interrogation.

Initially refusing to go, she was brusquely told she had no choice.  “They were quite rough, they told me [I had no choice] while showing some document saying that I was a ‘criminal suspect,’’’ Lu said as she recounted the story to NBC News in a telephone interview. Her request for a lawyer was refused.

When she asked what crimes she had allegedly committed, they responded, “We cannot tell you now.”

“During the interrogation, I was seated on a chair meant for criminal suspects; they were very impolite,” she said, adding that except for a call from her husband, she was not allowed to contact her lawyer and other friends during the whole proceeding.

The interrogation itself dealt with many issues concerning the company’s operations that she said had already been touched upon in previous investigations.

She said she was asked about her income, but said that she firmly told the police, “No, you have no right to ask that.”

Taiwan connection
As a “criminal suspect,” she was told that she can be summoned again anytime and should not travel or leave Beijing.

Lu said she had been planning to travel to Taipei in early December to attend Ai’s art exhibition
aptly called “Ai Weiwei Absent.” 

The show, which began last month, features 21 works from 1983 to the present. It includes a new installation named “Forever Bicycles” – a 30-foot-high arrangement  of more than 1,000 bicycles that gives the illusion of a moving abstract which art critics say symbolizes China’ social changes.
Last Friday, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou visited the show and called on China to respect human rights and Ai’s freedom of expression, underscoring a major issue of contention with mainland China.

“I think they wanted to prevent me from going to Taipei,” Lu said, adding that authorities might have learned of her plans by monitoring her phone calls.

“It was not just for the art show, I really wanted to visit Taipei because I have not seen Taiwan before,” she said, lamenting the cancellation of the trip.

Widening punishment?
Lu’s temporary detention comes about a week after police also began investigating Ai’s assistant for allegedly spreading pornography online, and some two weeks after Ai deposited $1.4 million with the tax authorities, which were raised from supporters’ donations, to comply with a legal procedure that would enable him to challenge the tax evasion charges.

And on the day she was taken away for questioning, police conducted a probe of the law firm that is representing Ai.

“Two policemen of Fengtai district came to our office yesterday  while I was away and photocopied this year’s accounts, saying they wanted our help in dealing with some cases,” Pu Zhiqiang, Ai’s lawyer,  told NBC News. Pu has previously told the foreign media that he believes the tax evasion case against his client was “politically motivated.”

Asked whether the police raid was related to Ai, he said: “Nobody has said anything.” He added: “To worry is useless, and I am not worried.”  

Liu Xiaoyuan, another lawyer for Ai, told NBC News that he suspects “punishment” for his inability to renew the license for his law office, which has been pending “for exactly five months tomorrow.”

Unable to practice in Beijing, he has temporarily returned to his home province of Jiangxi.

“The authorities concerned have warned me not to talk to the media about Ai’s case but I didn’t stop talking, so I think all this is punishment,” he said in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, repeated attempts to elicit comments from the police department involved in Lu’s case did not produce any response.

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