Media, Politics

A brief look: Ai Weiwei breaks his silence, gets a dissident freed

By Khadija Patel 11 August 2011

Dissident Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, has broken his self-imposed silence on all matters political. He did it on Twitter - the social media site his bail conditions explicitly forbid him from accessing. By KHADIJA PATEL.

On Tuesday, Ai Weiwei one of the Chinese government’s most avowed critics used his newly revived Twitter account to describe to his followers the ”torment” suffered by colleagues who had been detained alongside him and urging support for two other incarcerated dissidents. ”If you don’t speak for Wang Lihong, nor for Ran Yunfei, not only you’re the sort that doesn’t speak up for fairness and justice, you have no love for yourself.”

In response, Ai was not greeted by the chink of handcuffs dangling from the hands of Chinese security officials. Nor has the plug on his Internet connection been pulled. The Chinese government, in a surprising show of clemency, has actually released one of these dissidents, Ran Yunfei, from custody. Ran, said to be an advocate of free speech, was detained in February as Chinese authorities clamped down on dissent in China in response to the “Arab Spring”. Dozens of prominent lawyers, bloggers and human rights activists have been forced into the Chinese slammer for fear of an uprising that is, “Made in China”.

Ai was himself arrested in April and held for three months by state security officials, but later released after he signed a confession admitting to tax evasion. He was ordered not to leave Beijing without “permission” for a year and also promised not to use Twitter again. Ai is now in clear breach of his bail conditions, but his tweeting habits show no sign of abating. He has continued to curry support for Wang Lihong who is due to be tried on Friday for creating a “disturbance”. Curiously, Ai has also given a six-hour-long interview to a pro-government, English publication. The interview is peppered with frivolities, detailing Ai’s household renovations and even beaming pride of his svelte frame. Signs of Ai’s characteristic defiance did filter through.  “I will never stop fighting injustice,” he said. DM

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Photo: Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei closes the door to his studio after speaking to the media in Beijing June 23, 2011. Ai was detained in April, igniting an international uproar, but he was released on bail on Wednesday under conditions likely to keep the outspoken critic of Communist Party controls silent for now. He was detained at Beijing airport on April 3, igniting an outcry about China’s tightening grip on dissent, which has triggered the detention and arrest of dozens of rights activists and dissidents. REUTERS/David Gray.


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