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The Beijing police department announced on Wednesday that Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been released on ‘bail’ after nearly 3 months in detention. He was released from detention after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion and for intentionally destroying accounting documents.
As an outspoken critic of the Chinese governments human rights record, his arrest in April was seen by many as an attempt to silence him during the widespread crackdown on dissidents called ‘the big chill’ – where human rights advocates, artists and other activists were being arbitrarily arrested within the Chinese mainland.
According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua who first published Mr. Ai’s release, the grounds for his bail were “his good attitude in confessing his crime as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.” It was also taken into consideration that Mr Ai had “repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded,” according to the police.
The high-profile detention has been the focal point of heated debate and criticism from international observers who pointed to China’s faltering effort in living up to international standards of human rights. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and British sculptor Anish Kapoor were among the prominent people who publicly protested the detention of Mr. Ai. “Without the wave of international support for Ai and the popular expressions of dismay and disgust about the circumstances of his disappearance and detention, it’s highly unlikely the Chinese government would have released him,” said Phelim Kine, an Asian researcher for Human Rights Watch, to the New York Times.
While the 54-year-old artist looked a little slimmer as he arrived back home, he ensured reporters that he was ok. “I am already home, released on bail, I can’t talk to media but I am well, thanks for all the media attention,” he said to the BBC over the phone.
The conditions of his release are complicated. According to his sister, his wife received a phone call on Wednesday night, asking her to come to the police station. Reportedly, the officers informed her then and there that Mr. Ai was free to go. The word ‘bail’ commonly refers to the short translation of the Chinese term ‘qubao houshen’ which entails “obtaining a guarantee pending trial. [...] prosecutors have decided to drop charges against a suspect on certain conditions, including good behavior, and to monitor him over a period of time during which charges could be reintroduced,” The New York Times explains. According to a scholar of the Chinese legal system, the method is sometimes used as a ‘face-saving’ technique to end controversial cases and allows negotiation of the suspects condition of freedom.
Jerome Cohen, adjunct senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the CNN that Mr. Ai’s bail conditions has lost him his freedom of speech for at least a year. “He will not soon again be on Twitter, Facebook, television, take part in fora, etc. He’s got to keep quiet and behave according to the criteria of the Chinese police for the foreseeable future. He’s not the only one. This has happened many times before.”
Observers have noted that it’s no coincidence that the dissident artist was released on the eve of Premier Wen Jiabao’s upcoming European tour since Mr. Ai enjoys great support in the Western world. “Beijing has been under enormous pressure to free the artist,” says the BBC’s correspondent Damian Grammaticas. Both the US state department and EU representatives have welcomed the news but highlighted the critical circumstances of his arrest as well as those of dissidents and commentators who are still being held at unknown locations.
Image Courtesy of http://100aiweiwei.org