June 22, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei released conditionally after three months incommunicado

Reporters Without Borders is relieved that the dissident artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei (艾未未) was released conditionally today after being held for nearly three months. The official news agency Xinhua said the Public Security Bureau freed him because of his good behaviour, his “admission” of the “tax fraud” charges that had been brought against him, his health problems and other factors that were not specified. “We hope that Ai’s health has not deteriorated too much and we wish him a swift recovery,” Reporters Without Borders said. “However, we are worried about some of the Public Security Bureau’s claims, especially regarding a confession. Given the length of the time he was held incommunicado, light must be shed on the circumstances in which this confession was obtained. Cases of violence against people held incommunicado have been reported. And Ai? “His release does not mean the end of his problems. We fear that the authorities will deploy an entire legal arsenal in order to convict him of an ‘economic crime.’ As they have done with others in the past, the Chinese authorities could try to sentence him to a spell in prison or an exorbitant fine. “By employing such methods, the authorities are usually trying to legitimize the harassment that prevents the victims from continuing their former activities and undermines them psychologically and financially. The authorities also think that bringing charges of an economic nature will spare them protests by human rights activists in China or abroad.” Ai was arrested on 3 April at Beijing international airport as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong. Eight of his employees were also briefly detained the same day at his studio in the northwestern Beijing district of Caochangdi and were questioned for several hours before being released. The police visited his studio several times during the week prior to his arrest. Ai was previously harassed by the authorities last November, above all in connection with his documentaries about corruption in the Beijing judicial system. Reporters Without Borders is also worried about the former Global Times reporter Wen Tao, who also disappeared on 3 April. Aged 38 and a native of Sichuan, Wen was last seen in the Beijing district of Caochangdi, where Ai’s studio is located. The organisation published a report on 3 March about house arrests, disappearances and other methods used by the Chinese authorities to persecute those who defend free speech. A total of 76 cyber-dissidents and 30 journalists are currently detained in China, which is ranked 171st out of 178 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders released last October.