Social media used to plan global protest for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

International supporters of jailed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei are using the very media that helped land the artist in trouble with mainland authorities as they plan to re-enact one of his installations in a series of global protests calling for his release this weekend.

Ai has been under detention in Beijing since being arrested before trying to board a flight to Hong Kong on April 3, with the Chinese government saying the artist was being investigated for "economic crimes."

The 53-year-old Ai - known for his massive installation pieces that have featured at the likes of London's Tate Modern gallery - has in recent years been a vocal critic of the Chinese government and has often used social media platforms to voice his concerns.

Responding to his plight, a international collection of artists is now staging an event titled "1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei" which via Facebook calls for people to re-enact his installation piece "1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs," which featured as part of the Documenta 12 exhibition in Kassel, Germany in 2007.

The plan is for protesters to gather with chairs and stage a sit-in outside their local Chinese embassy or consulate at 1pm, local time, on Sunday.

"Artist and activist Ai Weiwei is an internationally regarded figure who has fought for artistic freedom and for freedom of speech throughout his distinguished career, envisioning and shaping a more just and equitable society through his work," organizers of the Hong Kong protest said in a statement.

The Chinese government has in recent weeks rounded up a collection of activists following online calls for country-wide protests, what organizers had hoped would follow similar online-inspired movements in the Middle East and Africa.

China has kept a vigilant eye on use of the internet which now has an estimated 457 million users, nationwide.

Social portals such as Facebook and Twitter are banned on the mainland but a number of Chinese versions have appeared - such as Weibo - albeit with strict controls on content and topics open for discussion.

MS

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