British artists in campaign to free artist Ai Weiwei

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Leading British artists launched a campaign Wednesday calling for the release of prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained last month amid a major crackdown on dissent.

Damien Hirst and Indian-born Anish Kapoor were among those who joined a campaign launched by The Times newspaper demanding the release of Ai, penning messages of support which were printed on a double-page spread in the paper.

"Today The Times calls for the immediate release of the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei," said the paper.

"So far international calls for his release have been ignored by the Chinese authorities."

A large photo of Ai signed by the artists was delivered by Kapoor and British artist Cornelia Parker to 10 Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister David Cameron, to mark the start of the campaign.

Kapoor, who dedicated his latest work "Leviathan" to Ai, wrote in The Times: "When governments silence artists it bears witness to their barbarity."

Hirst, famous for off-the-wall artworks such as dead animals preserved in formaldehyde, blasted Ai's detention as "another flagrant abuse of the basic human right of freedom of expression by the Chinese authorities".

"It cannot, and should not, in good conscience, be tolerated by the international community," he wrote.

The campaign is also backed by leading British art galleries including Somerset House and the Lisson Gallery, which last week opened new shows by Ai.

Ai, one of China's most prominent artists, was taken into custody on April 3 amid the Chinese authorities' toughest clampdown on dissidents and activists in years.

He is a vocal critic of China's government and his detention has been met with international condemnation, with the United States and European Union leading calls for his release.

Ai was allowed to see his wife at the weekend for the first time since being detained and appeared in good health, according to his sister.

So far, the Chinese government has said only that Ai is under investigation for economic crimes, but police have failed to issue a formal arrest warrant.

© 2011 AFP

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