Sep 01 2010

Beijing Artist’s Dubious Arrest

by William Pym

Activist WU YUREN with his daughter in 2010, prior to being detained by Jiuxianqio police for attempting to file a complaint relating to the 798 Art District dispute. Courtesy Karen Patterson.

Profound breaches of human rights continue to define the systematic, legally questionable mass evictions and demolitions that began in November 2009 in the art zones of Beijing’s northeastern Chaoyang district. At the Jiuxianqiao police station on May 31, the 39-year-old artist and activist Wu Yuren was incarcerated while accompanying Yang Licai, a fellow artist, to file a report about the forcible removal of a portable generator from Yang’s 798 Art District studio. The two men believed 798 property developers to be responsible for the crime. Wu has remained in custody since that afternoon, and now faces trial and up to three years in prison.

According to Yang, the two artists were held for questioning, without oral or written subpoena, upon arrival at the police station. Their complaint was not logged, and no explanation was given for their detention. Tempers flared when a police officer took Wu’s cell phone, and the two artists were separated. Yang then claims to have heard Wu being beaten for several minutes. Yang was formally charged on June 1 for anti-798 graffiti he had written following the generator theft, and spent ten days in a Chaoyang detention house for “obstructing police duty, later caught by the police.” Wu was charged with “obstructing and attacking a police officer” for alleged violence following his initial separation from Yang. He was first allowed to consult with a lawyer on July 5, 35 days after his initial incarceration. Wu strenuously denies the charges against him. A trial is not expected to begin until October.

On February 25, Wu was among the small group of artists who marched along Chang’an Avenue toward Tiananmen Square in protest of mass beatings in the 008 Art Zone on the previous night. The protesters claimed that the 008 property developers, unwilling to negotiate with the artists who would not leave, were responsible for the violence. In recent months, Wu has become an increasingly prominent voice of dissent against the art zone developments, in public and on the internet through uncensored channels such as Twitter. He is also a signatory on the Charter 08 petition, a pro-democracy manifesto for which activist Liu Xiabo received an 11-year prison sentence in December 2009.