After 81 days in detention, the detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has finally been allowed to go home. His mother Gao Ying didn’t sleep last night, and his sister Gao Ge told the Guardian that she is “very, very happy”.
While Ai is much skinnier, he has kept his trademark beard – which prisoners would normally have to shave – and his provocative way of talking. Upon Ai’s release (with bail), many media outlets were there waiting to welcome him.
Ai did not speak much in his interviews with the media. “We can sit here in silence together on the phone but we cannot speak a word,” Ai told the FT. His release is in exchange for a more conservative (and quieter) version of himself; it remains to be seen how far the freed Ai Weiwei will assert his right to freedom of expression.
The Western media stationed in Beijing have been quick to get quotes from Ai, but the Chinese media has kept silent except for the official media statement. An extract reads:
BEIJING, June 22 (Xinhua) — The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from. The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes.
It is believed that “chronic illness” refers to diabetes. It’s also widely believed that Ai has “confessed” to crimes of tax evasion. Joshua Rosenzweig, of the human rights foundation Dui Hua, reports on his blog that the coercive measures against Ai have been changed from something called “residential surveillance” to what can only be covered by a Chinese term: qubao houshen.
Qubao houshen allows Ai to live at home and move around freely. However, he must ask permission if he wants to travel abroad. The good news is that qubao houshen is what the authorities sometimes do if they want to discreetly drop a case that is no longer going to be charged. Rosenzweig quotes Professor Jerome Cohen at the US-Asia Law Institute blog:
Qubao houshen (QBHS) 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. Often in such cases a compromise has been reached in negotiation with the suspect, as apparently it has been here. Of course, we will have to hear what Ai says upon release, recognizing that, as part of the agreement and as a consequence of long incommunicado detention, the released suspect is usually subdued in any public remarks made upon release …
So far, the news of Ai’s release has been welcomed by all sides and was followed by the release of his cousin, Zhang Jinsong, and driver, Hu Mingfen.
Nevertheless, Wen Tao, a freelancer who worked with Ai and Liu Zhenggang, his accountant, remain missing.