In a surprising move, China has released Ai Weiwei.
Asserting that Ai had confessed to "tax evasion" and has promised to pay what he allegedly owes, and suggesting also that an unnamed health condition that Ai suffers from contributed to the decision, the Chinese authorities freed Ai last week. Further, four of Ai's associates (his driver, accountant, studio assistant and designer), detained at the same time, have now also been released.
China, not known for its impartial justice system nor its lenience in handling so-called 'dissidents' and perceived enemies of the state, insists the releases did not come as a result of international pressure (as many of those who contributed to that pressure following Ai's detention aver). According to Chinese officials, China's "judicial sovereignty" was never at stake.
Regardless of why the decision to release Ai and his associates was made, the huge international uproar at his detention some three months ago certainly took China by surprise.
Ai's future is uncertain, however. He has been barred from using social media, he cannot discuss his case with the media or comment on it in any way, and he cannot travel abroad. So while he is no longer physically incarcerated, it remains to be seen to what extent China manages to control his Art.
In addition, as Britian's The Independent points out, it's important that the west remembers "... the other 1,426 individuals known to be languishing in Chinese jails for political or religious reasons." The international furor over Ai's detention was an admirable and sustained response but, the paper warns, those concerned for China's other dissidents cannot become complacent.
Jerome A. Cohen, writing in the Wall Street Journal, condemns the Chinese judicial system and states that "This was no ordinary tax case but a politically motivated investigation designed to silence an increasingly popular critic."
(Stencil image from the Drains to Bay Stencil Gallery)