Why did China free "Love" artist Ai Weiwei?
By Bill Smith Jun 22, 2011, 18:04 GMT
Beijing - Activists and international rights groups welcomed Wednesday's release on bail of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, but questions remained about his legal status and why the ruling Communist Party decided to free him.
'As Ai Weiwei has been granted bail, so long as he doesn't leave the limits of Beijing city, he is completely free,' lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, a close friend of Ai, said on his Twitter account. 'Love,' rights activist Zeng Jinyan wrote on her Twitter account in her single-character reaction to Ai's release.
The Chinese character for love is a homophone for Ai that was popularized in a campaign for his release during his 80 days in detention.
The artist and activist was arrested for tax evasion on April 3 at Beijing's main airport as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong.
'It will be difficult to sleep tonight,' said activist Zhao Lianhai, adding that he planned to open a bottle of wine to celebrate Ai's release.
'I am really uncomfortable,' said another activist, Liu Shasha.
'Those of us on the outside had done too little for Ai Weiwei,' said Liu, who received a surprise visit from Ai after plain clothes police had kidnapped and tortured her in Beijing last year. 'In the end Ai has come out (of detention) humiliated,' she said.
Liu also added a sour note in response to an online rumour that police had detained well-known rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong late Wednesday.
'Look, you are too happy when they release one,' she said to fellow supporters of Ai. 'Then they detain (another) one.
'They deliberately keep everyone happy, and begin again,' Liu said.
London-based Amnesty International also questioned the Chinese government's motives for releasing Ai, saying the timing could be linked to Premier Wen Jiabao's planned visit to three European nations next week.
'Ai Weiwei's release coincides with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Britain and Germany, countries where the artist has strong professional ties and public support,' Amnesty said in a statement.
Wen is also scheduled to visit Hungary.
Ai's release 'can be seen as a tokenistic move by the government to deflect mounting criticism,' said Catherine Baber, Amnesty's Asia Pacific Deputy Director.
'While Ai Weiwei's release on bail is an important step, the reality is his long detention without charge violated China's own legal process,' Baber said.
'Ai Weiwei must now be granted his full liberty, and not be held in illegal house arrest as has been the pattern with so many others recently released from arbitrary detention,' she said.
Amnesty said it was 'vital that the international outcry over Ai Weiwei be extended to those activists still languishing in secret detention or charged with inciting subversion'.
It said Ai was one of at least 130 activists detained since February in a government crackdown following online calls for 'jasmine' protests across China, a reference that ousted long-time rulers in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year.
China should also release four partners and employees of Ai who were still believed to be in Chinese police custody, Amnesty said.
While Ai has so far remained silent about his detention, Liu Yaping, a paid volunteer with Ai, last month documented her interrogation by police in Beijing in the wake of Ai's arrest.
'Liu Yanping, if you dare put this on the internet, don't blame me if I use my own method to settle it,' Beijing police officer Zhao Chenxing allegedly threatened her during questioning in April.
'If I don't beat you in the police station, I will beat you outside,' Zhao warned Liu, who helped Ai to document the deaths of more than 5,000 children in the devastating Wenchuan earthquake, which left some 87,000 people dead or missing in May 2008.
According to Liu Yaping's online account of her four-hour questioning, circulated by US-based Human Rights in China, Zhao then swore at her and asked if she could stand a 'slap' from him.
'I'll get my hands dirty if I beat you, so I won't torment you,' she quoted Zhao as saying, 'I'll torment your husband.'