By EDWARD WONG
Published: July 8, 2010BEIJING — Wu Yuren, an artist who helped lead an unusually bold public protest last winter over a land dispute, has been languishing in a Beijing jail for almost six weeks after having been beaten by police officers, his wife said on Thursday.
Mr. Wu’s wife, Karen Patterson, a Canadian citizen, said in a telephone interview that the police were accusing her husband of assaulting an officer when he visited the police station on May 31. Ms. Patterson said she learned this only through their lawyer because the police had so far not formally told her that Mr. Wu had been arrested. She decided to publicly discuss the arrest in recent days, she said, because of what she called her frustration with China’s opaque legal system.
“You don’t realize how arcane this system is until you have to deal with it,” Ms. Patterson said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Ms. Patterson said she and friends of Mr. Wu, 39, believe that he had been arrested because of his recent activism, including his leadership of a group of artists from an artists’ district known as 008 in resisting the encroachment of a real estate developer. In February, those artists joined forces with artists from another Beijing neighborhood to march down Chang’an Jie, a wide ceremonial avenue that runs past the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Chinese leaders are especially sensitive to protests in that area, and police officers stopped the protesters after they had walked about 500 yards.
The police detained Mr. Wu briefly in March. After he was released, he and the other artists successfully negotiated for compensation for the seizure of their studio space by the developer. Mr. Wu and some other artists then moved their studios to 798, Beijing’s largest arts district.
The land grab dispute had attracted lots of attention in the news media, in part because Ai Weiwei, a well-connected artist who is a vocal critic of the Communist Party, had joined the street protest and sent out Twitter feeds about it. Some of the artists in the protest, including Mr. Wu and Mr. Ai, had taken part in other kinds of activism, including signing Charter 08, a liberal manifesto calling for democratic changes that was signed by thousands of Chinese. Liu Xiaobo, an author of the manifesto, was sentenced to 11 years in prison last December.
Mr. Wu’s latest fracas with the police began on May 31, when Mr. Wu went with a friend, Yang Licai, to the Jiuxianqiao police station to discuss a dispute with a landlord at 798, Ms. Patterson said. The police argued with the two men and took away their cellphones, which then led to more insults, Ms. Patterson said, citing an account by Mr. Yang.
The two men were interrogated separately, and Mr. Wu was beaten by about five policemen, Ms. Patterson said. He has been held since then and was not allowed to see his lawyer until this week, she added. For reasons that remain unclear, Mr. Yang was released after 10 days.
A person answering the phone at the police station declined to comment and said senior officers were not available to talk.
Ms. Patterson and the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, have not been allowed to see Mr. Wu. Ms. Patterson said she expected that Mr. Wu would be formally charged within a few months.
On Tuesday, she went to collect his personal belongings from the police station. His shirt, pants and shoes were in a plastic bag, she said, along with a letter he had written to the police telling them to call his wife.
Ms. Patterson said Mr. Ai, the prominent artist, had been lobbying on Mr. Wu’s behalf, but she had little hope that his case would be dropped.
“The police haven’t explained anything to me,” she said. “Trying to ask for accountability is very difficult.”