Ai Weiwei

Detained Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was allowed to meet his wife at the weekend, breaking six weeks of isolation from his family, and told her he had not been mistreated or tortured, Ai’s mother said today.

The brief meeting on Sunday afternoon between Ai Weiwei and his wife Lu Qing followed weeks of international controversy about the artist since he was detained at Beijing’s international airport on April 3, igniting an outcry about China’s tightening grip on dissent.

Ai’s wife, Lu, was contacted by police officers and taken to meet her husband “for a short while”, Ai’s mother, Gao Ying, said by telephone.

Ai, 53, is being investigated on suspicion of economic crimes, which his family has said are an unfounded excuse to silence his criticism of the government. Police have not told his wife or other family members of his whereabouts.

His detention prompted heavy criticism in the West, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council — representing EU governments — is expected to raise the 27-nation bloc’s concerns in Beijing this week.

“The fact that Lu Qing could see him was already a very merciful act by the authorities,” Gao said, adding that Ai did not go into details about his charge, except that “he did not understand it.”

“The rumors that we’ve heard about him being tortured have been too much for us to take, but now seeing is believing. His condition is good.”

Lu did not answer multiple calls made to her mobile phone.

Burly, bearded and blunt, Ai, is one of China’s best-recognized contemporary artists. His career encompasses protests for artistic freedom in 1979, provocative works in the 1990s and a role in designing the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Lu did not meet with Ai at a police station, but rather at a location that she was not familiar with, Gao said. The couple sat across a table, with police officers watching them.

“He was especially worried about my health, and of course she had to tell him that I’m doing well and not that I’m at home crying everyday,” Gao said.

“Lu Qing told him the family is fine and told him not to worry. He was very moved and tears welled up in his eyes.”

Gao said Ai, dressed in white, looked healthy and had not lost much weight.

“His face was still red and he still has his beard. He didn’t look too skinny,” Gao said, adding that Ai had told Lu he exercised by walking.

Ai has produced work spanning porcelain sunflower seeds to names of earthquake victims scrolling on a computer screen.

Unlike many of his peers, he has waded deep into political territory. He has spoken out on everything from last year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, denounced by authorities, to curbs on the Internet.

Chinese authorities have become increasingly impatient with Western pressure over human rights, saying it amounts to illegal meddling.

A senior Chinese diplomat, on a visit to Hungary on Thursday, defended the detention of Ai, saying it was “very condescending for the Europeans to come in to tell China that some people are beyond the law”.

U.S. officials raised Ai’s case in human rights talks in Beijing last month, but said they did not get an answer that satisfied them.

In February, overseas Chinese websites, inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” of anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world, called for protests across China, raising Beijing’s alarm about dissent and spurring a crackdown on dissent.

China has this year jailed, detained or placed in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.

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