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Help free political artist Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with his installation
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with his installation "Sunflower Seeds", at its unveiling at the Tate Modern in London, October 2010

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei disappeared into police custody on 2 April at Beijing Capital Airport as he was preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong. He has not been charged and the state has not disclosed where he is being held. The Chinese government is now attempting to erase every trace of his art and life from the Internet. Avaaz is urging you to sign a petition that calls on international galleries and artists to stop exhibiting art in China until Ai Weiwei is freed.

In his artwork, Weiwei, a leading cultural figure and political artist, has delved into the tragedy and injustice surrounding the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He tried to compile a list of all the dead children in "Missing". His installation "Remembering" used 9,000 children's backpacks to spell out a grieving mother's words: "She lived happily for seven years in this world." His studio has been trashed by authorities and he has been beaten for his investigations into the deaths of these school children, reports Index on Censorship.

An editorial in the "Southern Metropolis Daily" on 12 May remembering the victims of the earthquake and alluding to Ai Weiwei's work vanished from the newspaper's website within hours of being posted, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The editorial promised to "offer up porcelain sunflower seeds" in memory, referring to Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds" exhibit of 100 million porcelain seeds, on display at the Tate Modern in London right now.

According to Human Rights Watch, the artist's detention was carefully planned. On the day of his arrest, security officers raided his art studio in Beijing and took eight staff members, his wife Lu Qing and a lawyer friend in for questioning; all were released the same day. Weiwei's prominent Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has not been able to see his client. State media were instructed to not report the case and references to Weiwei's arrest were censored on the Internet. On 6 April an article in a state-run newspaper said Weiwei would pay the price for being an activist.

"Only sustained international pressure can help Ai Weiwei now," said Human Rights Watch.

Two journalists who reported on the artist's activism have disappeared, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Furthermore, academic and documentary filmmaker Ai Xiaoming, a supporter of Weiwei, reported that her front door was recently sealed shut from the outside with superglue; she has received a hundred silent phone calls.

To sign the Free Ai Weiwei petition, which will soon be delivered at the Venice Biennale exhibition, click here.
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