The German and French governments are calling for the immediate release of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who was arrested without charge over the weekend at an airport in Beijing. "I appeal to the Chinese government to urgently provide clarification, and I expect Ai Weiwei to be released immediately," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, in a statement on Monday.
Ai made headlines last week with an announcement that he wanted to build a major new Berlin studio. On Sunday he was detained at the airport while trying to board a plane to Hong Kong. Police raided his home and studio in Beijing, according to his wife, Lu Qing, and she herself was interrogated. She said Chinese authorities have still not told her where the artist is being held.
"They took the computer, computer disks and other materials," she told Agence France-Presse. "They refused to say why the search warrant was issued or why Ai Weiwei was taken away."
A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, Bernard Valero, joined Westerwelle's appeal on Monday, saying, "we are very concerned about the fate of the artist Ai Weiwei and we are following his situation and that of his family very closely. We hope he will be released as soon as possible."
The 53-year-old is famous for designing the "bird's nest" national stadium that became a centerpiece of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His installation "Sunflower Seeds" -- featuring thousands of tiny, painted ceramic imitation seeds -- is a current hit at the Tate Gallery in London. He's considered one of China's most successful living artists, and he's known for criticizing Communist Party leaders in Beijing.
'His Whereabouts Are Unknown'
A groundswell of support rose Tuesday from international art figures from London to Hong Kong. Sir Nicholas Serota, who heads the Tate Gallery, along with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, a friend of Ai's with a studio of his own in Berlin, joined a number of other artists and protestors in calling for Ai's freedom.
"The artist remains un-contactable and his whereabouts are unknown," said Serota on Monday night, according to The Independent in London. "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."
In January, the Chinese government raided and destroyed Ai's new studio in Shanghai, and last week the artist announced plans to open a large studio in Berlin. He told the German news agency DPA that he preferred to spend "as little time as possible" in Europe, but "there will be no choice if my work and life are somehow threatened."
During a 2009 trip to Germany he checked into a Munich hospital for emergency cranial surgery, which he told SPIEGEL was the result of a recent beating by police in China. Doctors said at the time that they had to relieve a cerebral hemmorhage on one side of his skull.
Ai's disappearance comes during a general crackdown on dissidents by Beijing. The so-called Jasmine Revolution in the Arab world -- the popular uprisings from Tunisia to Jordan since January -- have inspired a flurry of online activism in China. Over the last six weeks more than 100 activists, lawyers and writers have been detained or have simply disappeared, according to Amnesty International -- some of them just for using the words "Jasmine Revolution" in a Twitter feed.
"We've already seen the chilling effect the 'Jasmine Revolution'-related arrests have had on Chinese activists and 'netizens' over the past month," said Donna Guest, Amnesty's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region. "Holding Ai Weiwei takes this to another level."