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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei places himself under home surveillance

By Alexis Lai, for CNN
April 5, 2012 -- Updated 0044 GMT (0844 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese artist Ai Weiwei installs live webcams at his own home
  • Mimicks 24-hour police surveillance since his arrest at Beijing airport last year
  • Government has accused Ai of tax evasion, seeking payment of fines
  • Ai is still facing tax evasion charges, brought by the government soon after his release

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei has turned the cameras on himself.

On the first anniversary of his arrest at Beijing airport, the internationally-renowned artist and outspoken government critic has installed live web cameras at his home, a wink to the 24-hour police surveillance he has been under since his release.

"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," he said, in quotes carried by Agence France-Presse.

"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."

Four cameras, positioned over his computer, bed, and courtyard, broadcast a 24-hour live feed at weiweicam.com.

Ai Weiwei: Tax politically motivated
Ai Weiwei rises: Art and activism online

Ai, 54, was on his way to Hong Kong last April when he was taken into custody and detained for three months amid a crackdown on political dissidents, activists and religious groups across China. Ai's Beijing studio was raided, and his wife and eight assistants were taken into custody for questioning.

Activists attributed the campaign to government concerns about potential uprisings inspired by the Arab Spring.

More than a month after taking him into custody, Beijing police told the state-run Xinhua news agency that Ai evaded a "huge amount" of taxes and that his company, Fake Cultural Development Ltd., intentionally destroyed accounting documents.

The government then initiated a tax evasion case against Ai's company, demanding RMB 15 million (US$ 2.4 million) in fines, charges he denies and which critics argue are politically-motivated.

Read about the latest development in Ai Weiwei's tax evasion case

The provocative artist, blogger, documentary filmmaker, and architect has a complicated relationship with the authorities.

Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, he created art installations to question the government's silence over the 5,000 schoolchildren killed, deaths some have attributed to substandard construction of schools.

He said he was beaten in 2009 by police officers in his hotel room as he prepared to testify at the trial of a fellow earthquake activist. However, he was allowed to fly to Munich, Germany soon afterward to exhibit his installation.

Ai also helped designed the iconic Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but later renounced his role after feeling the games had become too politicized.

In November last year, he was briefly placed under house arrest to prevent him from attending a goodbye party he organized for his million-dollar studio in Shanghai after police ordered it demolished. Ai said that studio was built following government demands in the first place to enhance the city's cultural standing.

Q&A: Is China afraid of Ai Weiwei?

Ai has also embedded his Twitter feed on weiweicam.com, displaying a constant flow of netizen praise for his latest work. User @sunrrr wrote: "Ai Weiwei is always able to come up with wonderful ways to do wonderful things", while @katrinazaat tweeted "It's comforting to see you on the webcam. I admire your courage and persistence as an artist."

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