Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ai Weiwei Released on Bail

Ai Weiwei out on bail - seen here at the door of his home in Beijing last night. Image David Gray/Reuters via The Guardian.

Good news today, with media outlets reporting Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei was finally released last night on bail. The Wall Street Journal has posted a short video of Ai's arrival at his home in northeast Beijing. Although Ai looked tired and appears to have lost a lot of weight, he basically appeared to be in good health. He reportedly said he was unable to offer any comment to the media other than expressing happiness at being back home.

As I wrote about here Ai Weiwei disappeared on April 3 after being detained at Beijing Capital Airport while attempting to board a flight for Hong Kong. Apart from a few minutes with his wife Lu Qing on May 15, Ai had not been heard of since his arrest until last night. It's still unclear if he has been formally charged, although the Guardian reported: “Beijing police said they had released the 54-year-old 'because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes.'”

Chinese state news agency Xinhua added in a release late last night that Ai has also been released because of a “chronic disease he suffers from” – presumably a reference to his diabetes. They also reported a police claim that “Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded.” Rather laughably, the Chinese authorities have maintained Ai's detention has nothing to do with his activism and is all about “economic crimes.”

Ai Weiwei is China's best known contemporary artist and has also produced a range of documentaries related to China's activist community.

It will be interesting to watch what happens next. Presumably Ai Weiwei promised to change his outspoken ways in exchange for his release, but I can't see him remaining quiet for long. Yet re-arresting him will not exactly be great PR for China's rulers. Ai has also stated many times he does not wish to leave China permanently and live overseas.

Stay tuned.

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