COPENHAGEN — Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is withdrawing his works from two museums in Denmark to protest a new law that allows Danish authorities to seize valuables from migrants.
"Basically it's an insult to human dignity to have that kind of policy," Ai told The Associated Press on Wednesday by phone from Lesbos, the Greek island where many migrants enter Europe from Turkey.
The Danish Parliament on Tuesday approved a government proposal requiring migrants to hand over valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,500) to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases are being processed.
Human rights activists have denounced the move as degrading and inhumane. The Danish government says it's simply applying the same rules to migrants as to Danes who receive social benefits.
Ai Weiwei attends the Ai Weiwei Exhibition Preview Cocktail at Le Bon Marche on January 18, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ai announced on social media that he was withdrawing his works from exhibitions at the Aros museum in the city of Aarhus and the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen. He said he also called curators at both museums to explain his decision.
Ai told the AP it made him "angry and surprised'' to hear about the Danish law after seeing people from Syria and other places arrive on the shores of Lesbos. He said he's been working there since Christmas, setting up a studio to document the migrant crisis.
"They are shaking, they are wet and they are just trying to escape from war,'' he said. "But they don't have to be penniless. They are not beggars. This is about their dignity.''
Jens Faurschou, who owns the Faurschou Foundation, confirmed he spoke to Ai early Wednesday and that he supported his decision.
Ai Weiwei is withdrawing his works from the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum. (Photo: Getty Images)
"He told me he spent all night reading the news about Denmark,'' Faurschou said. "He was very sad about it.''
Besides the rules on valuables, the new law also extends from one year to three the period that family members must wait before they can join a refugee in Denmark.
Erlend Hoeyersten, the director of the Aros museum, said in a statement that he has "great respect'' for Ai's criticism of Danish immigration policies, "but I also find it unreasonable that an entire people is punished for the government's policies.''
Ai, whose work is often critical of Chinese authorities, said he wasn't trying to punish anyone.
"As an artist this is the only thing I can do,'' he said. "If he feels punished that's too bad.''
Ritter reported from Stockholm.