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By KEITH BRADSHER, nytimes.com / Published: August 12, 2011.
Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
HONG KONG — Ai Weiwei, a prominent Chinese artist and dissident, said on Friday that he had been kept in a tiny room throughout his nearly three-month detention last spring and watched 24 hours a day by shifts of two uniformed military police sergeants who never left his side.
During a brief telephone interview, Mr. Ai confirmed and elaborated on a description of his captivity provided by an associate. The sergeants were never more than 30 inches from his side, and sometimes just four inches away, and stayed there as he slept, showered and used the bathroom, Mr. Ai said.
“It is designed as a kind of mental torture, and it works well,” he added.
Mr. Ai, 54, was detained at Beijing’s main airport on April 3 when he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong, and was taken away by the police. In the preceding months, he had emerged in Twitter postings as a forceful critic of the arbitrary exercise of power by Chinese officials and an advocate for greater democracy.
Mr. Ai’s associate, who insisted on anonymity because of the risk of official retaliation, said that from the very beginning of his detention the police made it clear that it would be a difficult experience. “He told me that when he was taken from the airport, the police told him: ‘You always give us trouble, now it’s time for us to give you trouble’,” the associate said.
Mr. Ai was released on June 22, after he signed what the authorities described as a confession of tax evasion at his art business. But the associate said that the police had not taken an interest in his tax matters when they interrogated him.
“He said he was questioned by police for more than 50 times, and none of those was about the tax issue of the company, but mostly about his blog,” the associate said, adding that the police had vehemently criticized Mr. Ai for his postings. “‘How dare you say those things, you are too defiant, disobedient,’ they would say.”
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