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Beijing won't let go of Ai Weiwei

Danny Vincent speaks with artist and dissident Ai Weiwei

Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei is sometimes described as the most powerful artist on earth. His work has captured the imagination of millions while his activism has made him the most high profile target in Beijing's crackdown on dissent.

In 2011, Ai Weiwei disappeared for 81 days, sparking international outcry for his release. One year on, his bail period has ended but he still faces restrictions.

Reporter Danny Vincent spoke with the artist.
Transcript
DANNY VINCENT, REPORTER: Ai Weiwei is described as the most powerful artist on earth.

AI WEIWEI: Sorry I can't.

DANNY VINCENT: You canít talk? You're not allowed to talk?

AI WEIWEI: Iím on probation.

DANNY VINCENT: A year ago he was silenced after an 81 day detention with no official charge. It led to an international outcry for his release.

Now the dissident artist has his freedom. But he says he continues to face harassment and restrictions.

(Footage of Ai Weiwei being harassed on the street by a group)

(Footage of Ai Weiwei at his computer)

This has become an ordinary day for a confined man.

On the Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, he tweets to his millions of fans. He is facing charges of tax evasion and pornography; charges he says are fabricated.

AI WEIWEI: I don't feel I have any freedom, and I feel very quite sad because first they grabbed my freedom a year ago, and after one year, until the last day they have to announce they finished this so called bail, probation, but same moment they told me I still cannot travel outside of China.

So, they said I am still under investigation.

DANNY VINCENT: He said it was outspoken comments that led to his detention.

He was banned from speaking to the media for a year and says that the spread of information is one thing the government fears.

AI WEIWEI: I think they most worried about is my free spirit. As an artist I have a lot of people, young people, that follows me, and they see me as some kind of martyr or example. And that individual takes some action, stand up, openly discuss issues which is most dangerous for this kind of society.

DANNY VINCENT: But why does one artist's opinion get so much attention?

AI WEIWEI: I think because the government is not elected by people. It's not - doesn't have the obligation to serve the people. The only reason they care is to maintain the stability, to stay in power. And they can sacrifice anything if they think it's necessary. I think thatís sad.

DANNY VINCENT: This is the ultimate conundrum for China: can it maintain economic growth without political reform?

This year will see China's once in a generation change of leadership. Authorities want to smooth transition; criticism from dissident artists like Ai Weiwei is seen as an embarrassment to the central authorities.

AI WEIWEI: I have been always been followed. My phone is tapped. My phone is not allowed to turn off, 24 hours a day.

I have to report where I am. And I have to tell them who I have been dealing with, you know, whoís come to my dinner table or who I associated with in the past year. Now the restriction lift but we still see police car parking outside, secret police are following us when we are walking in the park. You know, my phone and my computer is always been checked, tapped, you know, secretly maintain all the materials of us. So thatís the condition.

DANNY VINCENT: He said he would like to travel to London for Olympics. But his future is not clear.

AI WEIWEI: My life is so unpredictable. You know, you can be disappeared any time and any moment. And you don't know what's in the other person's mind. And all you know is they're not going to use, they cannot be controlled or regulated by law. And you are always subject this kind of unlawful activities.
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