Beijing – Chinese border police detained renowned artist and rights activist Ai Weiwei at Beijing’s main airport on Sunday, while other officers detained eight employees of his main studio, supporters said.

Supporters posting messages on Ai’s Twitter account and their own accounts said he had planned to board a flight to Hong Kong when he was detained Sunday morning.

Police then raided Ai’s studio in Beijing’s Caochangdi district early Sunday afternoon, taking the eight employees to a local police station, an assistant said via Ai’s Twitter account.

Ai’s mobile phone remained switched off on Sunday afternoon.

It was not immediately clear if he had planned to travel on from Hong Kong or only visit the Chinese territory.

In a telephone interview with the German Press Agency dpa last week, Ai, 53 said he planned to open a new studio in Berlin partly in response growing interference in his work by the Chinese government.

‘I just need the studio for working,’ Ai said. ‘However, as we all know, one studio in China has been demolished and another faces the possibility of being demolished,’ he said.

‘At the same time, my exhibitions have been cancelled. It is true that the possibility for artistic expression is very small in China,’ Ai said.

Ai said he hoped to spend ‘as little time as possible’ in Europe once he opened the Berlin studio.

‘However, there will be no choice if my work and life are somehow threatened,’ he said.

Last month, Ai said he had cancelled a solo exhibition planned for a leading Beijing gallery after the organizers requested a delay because of the ‘political sensitivity’ of his work.

‘My studio in Shanghai has been demolished. You can see it’s getting worse,’ Ai said of China’s restrictions on artists and writers.

Ai has become increasingly active in China’s human rights movement in recent years.

In September 2009, he underwent surgery in Germany for a cerebral haemorrhage that he said was caused when he and other activists were attacked in his hotel in the central city of Chengdu during the trial of rights activist Tan Zuoren.

Tan and Ai tried to determine how many children died when poorly constructed schools collapsed in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed at least 80,000 people.

Ai has gained an international reputation for his wide range of artworks, installations and performances. He was an artistic consultant for the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.