Ai Weiwei, Chinese government friction intensifies over webcams

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The public friction between Ai Weiwei and the Chinese government is starting to heat up again as the outspoken artist has grown noticeably bolder in his online activism in recent weeks.

Ai, whose run-ins with Beijing authorities have made international headlines, was thrown in prison last April for a period of 81 days. To mark the anniversary of his detention, the artist recently set up surveillance cameras in his own home and streamed the live footage of himself on the Internet.

But on Wednesday, authorities demanded that Ai take down his cameras and cease broadcasting, the artist told BBC News. Ai wrote on his Twitter account the same day that he ‘won’t be shut down.’

The site,, now appears to be deactivated. It was unclear if Ai complied with Beijing’s request or if the site was forcibly shut down. But on Thursday, the artist told the New York Times that he and his colleagues had disconnected the four cameras and deactivated the site.


Last month, Ai told journalists that Chinese officials had removed his account on the popular microblogging site Sina. Reports stated at the time that Ai’s account had been deleted shortly after it had been created.

The artist continues to use Twitter on a daily basis. He also maintains an active Google+ account, on which he has recently posted information regarding his ongoing tax dispute with Chinese officials. Last week, Beijing rejected the artist’s appeal in the case, in which the artist faces accusations of tax evasion. Ai faces a reported fine of 15 million yuan, or about $2.4 million. The artist has told reporters that he will continue to fight the government on the matter.

In the weeks following his release last year, Ai kept a relatively low profile, staying out of the spotlight and refraining from making political statements.

The latest provocations come at a time of heightened online watchfulness in China. In March, rumors spread on Chinese microblogging sites that a coup had toppled the Beijing government. In response, officials cracked down on online users by suspending certain functionality on blogging sites, according to reports.


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— David Ng