China: Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei Puts Himself Under Web Surveillance

Prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has installed four live webcams at his home in Beijing as a symbolic protest against the police’s 24-hour surveillance of him. [Update: The Chinese authorities ordered Ai to turn off his webcams yesterday on April 4.]

Last year on April 3 [zh], Ai Weiwei was arrested at the Beijing airport under the pretext of being “a threat to national security”. The police action was believed to be part of the crackdown of the call for Chinese Jasmine Revolution inspired by the Arab Spring. Ai was detained for 81 days in a secret location and interrogated more than 50 times for inciting state sedition, economic flaw, tax evasion, distribution of indecent and obscene photos, double marriage, illegal money exchange, etc.

He has been under probation since June 22, 2011. Since then he has been under constant surveillance by the police. There are at least 15 cameras outside his house.

The four webcams are placed parallel to his computer screen and near the ceiling to oversee his working desk, courtyard and bedroom. Below is a screen capture of him sleeping on April 3:

Ai's bedroom webcam

Ai’s bedroom webcam

As a part of Ai Weiwei’s artivist performance to remember the anniversary of his disappearance, human rights lawyer and Ai’s friend Liu Xiaoyuan interviewed Ai on Twitter:

@刘晓原律师: 今天是@aiww失踪一周年“纪念”日,请问@aiww是否想过将来哪一天还会有类似经历?

@Liu_xiaoyuan: Today is @Aiww’s anniversary of [his] disappearance. @Aiww do you think you will encounter a similar experience again?

@Aiww: 随时都有可能

@Aiww: Anytime

@ 刘晓原律师: 采访一下@aiww:在去年四月三日以前,是否想过会有被失踪的一天?曾有网友说过,凭你在杨佳案时写的文章,就足以判你个煽覆罪,坐个十年八年的牢。之 所以当年不抓你,是因为你父亲曾是高官?我不明白的是,为何在杨案件过去近三年后,又把你给抓了?难道你真是“反话”势力总指挥?

@Liu Xiaoyuan: @Aiww: Before April 3 last year, had you ever thought that you would disappear like that? Some netizens said your comment on Yang Jia [the murder of Shanghai police officers] could be evidence of “inciting sedition” and subject you to up to 10 years imprisonment. The reason why they did not take action is because of your father’s position. What I don’t understand is why they arrested you three years after Yang Jia’s case? Are you really the director of an anti-China force?

@Aiww: 我从来没有幻想,我父亲曾承受更大折磨,我公开承认是反华势力。

@Aiww: I had never imagined that. My father has suffered from much bigger torment as I openly admitted that I am part of the anti-China force.

@刘晓原律师: 采访@aiww:你是一个艺术淫,为何不搞一些歌颂伟大祖国的作品,专喜搞什么草泥马之类的东西?你是天性喜欢与国家势力作对吗?

@Liu_xiaoyuan: Interview question to @aiww: you are a artist, why don’t you do some art work to praise your country? Instead, you play with the grassmud horse… aren’t you a natural born national enemy?

@Aiww: 言论自由是生命的权利,是生命的属性,祖国在我的生存经验中伤害了如此原则。

@Aiww: Freedom of speech is a human’s fundamental right, it defines life. In my experience, my mother country has damaged this very principle.

@刘晓原律师: 你会象王立军躲进米帝使馆吗?

@Liu_Xiaoyuan: Would you escape to the United States consulate like Wang Lijun?

@Aiww: 王吃了一次亏,奥胆怯呢。

@Aiww: Wang has failed. I am not that courageous.

A less sarcastic explanation of his action can be found at New York Times. Ai Weiwei said to the news agency:

In my life there is so much surveillance and monitoring – my phone, my computer. Our office has been searched. I have been searched, every day I am being followed, there are surveillance cameras in front of my house. So I was wondering why don’t I put some [cameras] in there so people can see all my activities. I can do that and I hope the other party [authorities] can also show some transparency.

This article,  published on Global Voices on April 5, 2012, is co-authored by Oiwan Lam.

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