BEIJING The wife of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said on Tuesday police treated her as a "criminal suspect" when they took her away for three hours of questioning, in a sign that Beijing is stepping up efforts to intimidate Ai -- its most famous social critic.
Lu Qing, 47, was the latest person linked to Ai to be taken in for questioning. But Lu, who was released soon after, said police officers could not tell her what kind of crime she was suspected of committing.
Ai, whose 81-day secret detention earlier this year ignited an international uproar, was released in late June. Ai and his supporters said he was the victim of the ruling Communist Party's crackdown on dissent. The government accused him of tax evasion, a charge he denied.
Lu said police interrogated her about her responsibilities at Beijing Fake Cultural Development. The firm is at the centre of the tax evasion case, which critics have said is a political vendetta against Ai for his caustic criticism of the government.
Lu is the legally registered representative of the company, and therefore could also be targeted in the charges.
"I didn't expect it at all," Lu told Reuters.
"Four people from the Beijing Chaoyang Police Station barged in this afternoon and came out with a notice that said I'm a criminal suspect."
"(Later) I asked them: What crime am I suspected of committing?" she said. "They said, 'I can't tell you.'"
The police told Lu that she could not leave Beijing "in the near term" but refused to tell her for how long. Lu said they also told her that they could take her back anytime for questioning.
Lu said the police asked her about the programs run by Fake and personal information such as her money transactions and bank accounts such as one in New York. But they did not mention the tax evasion case, she added.
Lu was last questioned by police in April, when officials said that Ai was under investigation for "suspected economic crimes."
The bearded and burly artist was detained without any charge in early April and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release in late June.
But Ai has ignored efforts to silence him and has instead become a rallying point for China's dissidents and activists under pressure since a government crackdown early this year brought a wave of detentions and arrests.
Ai paid a bond of 8.45 million yuan ($1.3 million) this month, paving the way to file what he fears may be an ultimately futile appeal on the tax evasion charge. The money was raised from contributions from his supporters.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)