After more than two and a half months of detention — and an international outcry — world-renowned Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei has been freed on bail, the Guardian reports. Ai’s release was first confirmed via text message say two friends; he is now home, says his sister Gao Ge:
“I’m very, very happy,” she said repeatedly. “We thank everyone, including our media friends, for all their help and support so far.”
As his mother, Gao Ying, told NPR, “We won’t sleep tonight.”
Ai was detained on April 3 at the Beijing airport while on his way to board an airplane for Hong Kong. His wife was allowed a brief supervised visit with him in May. Ai’s family was not notified of the detention and formal charges against Ai were not announced. Chinese authorities have said that Ai was detained for suspicion of economic crimes; his family and supporters say that he is innocent. As the Guardian notes, some human rights activists have said that the economic focus of the charges was made so other governments could not press for his release. Others say that the economic charges offer “officials the possibility of drawing back – as they appear to have done – whereas it would have been too embarrassing to drop political charges.”
The Xinhua news agency report says that Ai has been released “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes,” and also because he suffers from a “chronic disease.” The report continues:
The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded, police said.
The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said.
The New York Times clarifies what it means for Ai to be on “bail”:
“Bail” is the shorthand commonly used as an English translation of the Chinese term “qubao houshen,” which means obtaining a guarantee pending trial. It generally means that prosecutors have decided to drop charges against a suspect on certain conditions, including good behavior, and subject to monitoring during over a period of time during which charges could be re-introduced.
This is a technique that the public security authorities sometimes use as a face-saving device to end controversial cases that are unwise or unnecessary for them to prosecute,” Jerome A. Cohen, a scholar of the Chinese legal system, said in an e-mail message. “Often in such cases a compromise has been reached in negotiation with the suspect, as apparently it has been here.”
Mr. Cohen said the circumstances of “qubao houshen” usually meant that the detainee had agreed to limitations on his or her behavior, and that the case could be quietly dropped if the detainee adheres to that agreement and other compromises made. Legally, the police can continue to pursue the case for up to one year. During that time, the suspect is allowed freedom of movement, but the police generally hold on to the person’s travel documents.
Following Ai’s arrest, several friends and activists also went missing. The past months have seen regular reports about other dissidents, human rights lawyers, artists and many others detained and placed under house arrest. This crackdown seems to be the Chinese government’s response to the pro-democratic movements in Arab countries; Beijing has been described as “unnerved” by the protests in the Middle East. When calls for a “Jasmine Revolution” circulated anonymously online in February, the Chinese government was swift to send out police and security forces to places where protesters were encouraged to gather. China has also stepped up restrictions on journalists in the past few months.
Huge thanks to all who signed the petition for Ai Wei Wei’s release and to Bianca Jagger for creating the petition.
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Photo with “Free Ai WeiWei” graffiti by 美国之音黎堡 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons