By Malcolm Moore 1:49PM BST 06 Apr 2011
No one has heard from Mr Ai, 53, since he was stopped from boarding a flight at Beijing airport last Sunday and escorted away by police, together with his friend Wan Tao.
Until Wednesday, the Chinese authorities refused to comment on his whereabouts, despite calls for his release from the UK, the United States and the European Union.
However, in an ominous editorial, the state-run Global Times newspaper appeared to confirm the worst fears of Mr Ai’s family, friends and supporters.
“Ai Weiwei […] has been close to the red line of Chinese law. As long as Ai Weiwei continuously marches forward, he will inevitably touch the red line one day,” the newspaper wrote. “Ai Weiwei will be judged by history, but he will pay a price for his special choice,” it added.
The newspaper also hinted that Mr Ai had infringed the law by attempting to fly from Hong Kong to Taiwan without completing his “departure procedures”. Chinese citizens require a special permit to visit the island.
Mr Ai’s former lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said yesterday that Mr Ai’s family had still not been informed of what had happened, and that the artist’s arrest was not “sensible or reasonable”. He added that he remained optimistic Mr Ai would be released.
His friends said Mr Ai had steeled himself for such an outcome after years of criticising the government. Hao Guang, a fellow artist in Beijing, said Mr Ai “has known for a long time this day was coming”.
He said: “In the past few years, since Wen Jiabao (the Chinese premier) began calling for justice and freedom, some people have been misled into thinking that we really should be fighting for justice and freedom. But as Ai said, being truly patriotic in China means committing a crime, because they still cannot tolerate different voices and they use a very simple, and sometimes violent approach, to make people toe the line.” Mr Ai is the most prominent victim of a wide campaign to silence lawyers, activists and writers in recent weeks, with dozens being “disappeared” or charged with inciting subversion.
His installation of 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds is currently filling the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and British artists have voiced their support for Mr Ai. Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, said he was “dismayed” by what had happened and hoped Mr Ai “will be released immediately”.
Meanwhile, a large scale public art project by Mr Ai to occupy the Pulitzer Fountain outside the Plaza Hotel in New York will go ahead early next month, even if Mr Ai is not present, the organisers confirmed.