Chinese Dissident Artist Ai WeiWei Released
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A prominent Chinese artist and pro-democracy activist was released on bail today, after confessing to tax evasion. That's according to Chinese state media. Ai WeiWei was a high-profile dissident arrested by Chinese authorities this spring during a widespread crackdown on human rights lawyers, bloggers and activists.
NPR's Rob Gifford has the story from Shanghai.
ROB GIFFORD: The official Xinhua News Agency said that the Beijing Police Department had released Ai WeiWei on bail because of what it called his good attitude in confessing his crimes, as well as on health grounds. The police were also quoted saying that Ai was willing to pay back the taxes he was accused of evading.
One of the conditions of his bail is not to talk to the press. But before Ai WeiWei arrived at his home tonight, his mother, Gao Ying, spoke briefly to NPR.
Ms. GAO YING: (Through Translator) Just now, about 10 minutes ago, they called and told us that Xinhua News Agency has an article saying WeiWei is out on bail. But I haven't seen WeiWei yet. He hasn't come home yet. The specifics I don't know, but I think we'll keep waiting.
GIFFORD: She added that she did not want to comment on the report that her son had made a confession. She said she just wanted to see him first and see his condition.
Ai WeiWei's family connections had helped to protect him over the years. His father, the poet Ai Qing, was a favorite of Chairman Mao. Ai's often scathing criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and his constant activism had finally overstepped the mark and he was arrested on April 3rd as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
Ai is perhaps most famous for helping to design the Birds Nest Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Last October, he unveiled a carpet of millions of porcelain sunflower seeds at London's Tate Modern Art Gallery.
China watcher Jeffrey Wasserstrom, of the University of California at Irvine, says that Ai WeiWei was certainly the most prominent of the many artists, human rights lawyers and Christian activists to be detained.
Professor JEFFREY WASSERSTROM (History, University of California, Irvine): Ai WeiWei was the most visible symbol of what was just a general chill from the lead up immediately up to the Olympics, all the way on up till now we've just seen a tendency toward a tightening of zones of freedom.
GIFFORD: The Chinese phrase used to translate the English term: Released on Bail, usually means that prosecutors have decided to drop charges against a suspect, as long as the suspect meets certain conditions - such as not speaking to the press. It's often seen as a way for the government to save face in cases when it decides it's unwise to proceed with legal prosecution.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom says Chinese politics are so opaque that it's extremely hard to know the reasons that anything happens.
Prof. WASSERSTROM: Of course, there's a desire for news coverage of China to be more upbeat at the moment, as the big celebration of the party's 90th birthday is coming up on July 1st. But I think it's foolish to assume that these kinds of moves are too rational.
GIFFORD: For example, says Wasserstrom, there's plenty of unrest roiling China at the moment which might make observers expect a harder line on activists and dissidents.
Amnesty International called Ai's release a tokenistic move by the government, pointing out that four of Ai's associates are still being secretly detained.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, Shanghai.
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