Chinese strip down for Ai Weiwei amid porn investigation

BEIJING Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:41am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - First it was money folded into paper planes that were flown over the walls of dissident artist Ai Weiwei's home. Now Chinese Internet users' latest show of solidarity with Ai has taken the unlikeliest form of protest: mass nudity.

By Monday afternoon, seventy people had posted nude photos of themselves on a website called "Ai Wei Fans' Nudity -- Listen, Chinese Government: Nudity is not Pornography" -- a rare form of protest in a country where public nudity is still taboo.

They uploaded the photos after Beijing police questioned Ai's videographer on Thursday for allegedly spreading pornography online by taking nude photographs of Ai and four women.

Supporters of Ai, whose 81-day secret detention earlier this year sparked an international outcry, say that the questioning over the nude photographs is China's latest effort to intimidate its most famous social critic.

The videographer, Zhao Zhao, said Beijing police interrogated him for about four hours on the motives behind the photographs.

"They said: 'Don't you know that the photos that you've taken are obscene photos?'" Zhao told Reuters by telephone. "I said: 'I didn't know that' and said 'how can they be considered obscene?' They said they've characterized them as such."

Ai paid a bond of 8.45 million yuan ($1.3 million) last Tuesday, paving the way to file what he fears may be an ultimately futile appeal on a tax evasion charge that his supporters have said is a political vendetta. The money was raised from contributions from his supporters.

Wen Yunchao, who posted two nude photographs of himself on the website, said he believed the investigation against Ai's assistant was the latest form of "persecution" against Ai.

"This is a matter that has made many people very indignant," Hong Kong-based Wen said. "Because the interpretation of people's naked bodies in itself is an individual freedom and a form of creative freedom. Also, we don't see any pornographic elements in (Ai's) photographs. So we are using this extreme method to express our protest."

Many of the photos posted on the website were accompanied with politically tinged commentaries.

"Grandpa, is this pornography?" wrote a user, who was photographed bare-bottomed and writing on a wall with the words "'89 political turmoil," referring to the June 4, 1989, armed crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

During Ai's confinement, police had also questioned him about the nude photographs that were taken in August last year, Ai told Reuters.

Ai said the nude photographs had no deeper political meaning and were not meant to criticize the government, but he added that the government could perceive the photos as a "rebellious act."

"We did it because it was a way to remove fear and the feeling of isolation," Ai told Reuters. "Because fear and the feeling of isolation are defining characteristics in certain societies.

"Today, in reality, these (actions) are inappropriate for the time being. So when I see everyone like this, I feel young people still have some conscience."

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Don Durfee)

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