Ai Weiwei (艾未未), the artist held for more than two months by Chinese authorities, has lashed out at the “torment” of friends entangled in his case and pressed the cases of detained activists.
“If you don’t speak for Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), and don’t speak for Ran Yunfei (冉雲飛), you are not just a person who will not stand out for fairness and justice; you do not have self-respect,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Wang is expected to face trial within weeks for “creating a disturbance” after demonstrating in support of bloggers accused of slander after writing about a suspicious death.
Ran, 43, is a high-profile blogger, was detained in March and later formally charged with “inciting subversion of state power” during a crackdown on dissent linked to calls for Chinese citizens to join protests echoing anti-government actions in the Middle East.
Ai’s Twitter messages are by far his strongest remarks since his release and were written despite bail conditions placing him under tight restrictions for at least a year.
Xinhua news agency said in June that police had released Ai “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes” and a chronic illness, adding that he had agreed to pay back taxes he had evaded.
Authorities say the case had nothing to do with human rights, but supporters believe it was retaliation for the 54-year-old’s social and political activism.
Four of Ai’s associates — his friend Wen Tao (文濤), designer Liu Zhenggang (劉正剛), accountant Hu Mingfen (胡明芬) and driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong (張勁松) — were held for around two months, and released shortly after him.
“Today I met Liu Zhenggang. He talked about the detention for the first time ... This steel-willed man had tears coming down ... He had a sudden heart attack at the detention center and almost died,” Ai wrote in a tweet late on Monday night.
“For a while, we were detained at the same place. I heard another artist with beard had also come in, but didn’t expect that to be him,” Ai wrote.
“Because of the connection with me, they were illegally detained. Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao and Zhang Jinsong innocently suffered immense mental devastation and physical torment,” he wrote.
Ai said he was not able to give interviews.
However, he confirmed to the Guardian that he had written the tweets.
“It was the first time after my release that I had met my colleague. I was so shocked when I saw him ... He [had] a heart attack and his body was still not moving well. They treated him terribly and he almost died during his inhumane detention,” he said.
“So many people were related to my case and were inhumanely treated for so long ... How could society and the system do this kind of thing and use the name of justice?” he wrote.
He said he was angry because he believed they had been ordered not to discuss their treatment with anyone.
Police in Beijing never responded to media queries about Ai’s four friends. Asked about their disappearances at the time, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press officer referred queries to local authorities.
The artist resumed posting messages on Twitter — which is blocked in China, but available to those using virtual private networks or other means of evading the firewall — at the weekend. His initial remarks were innocuous, including references to what he was eating.
Asked if he was worried about the repercussions of his tweets, he replied: “I am worried about everything. What am I going to do?”
He has said little about his own detention, beyond the remark that he had experienced “extreme condition.”
“He’s still gagged. The fact he is tweeting doesn’t mean he is free to speak,” said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“There is no basis in law that prevents Ai from talking about his detention. But law had little to do with his case in the first place,” Bequelin said. “Free expression is not only a right, it is also a natural human impulse and as an artist Ai cannot allow himself to self-censor beyond the strict minimum that will keep him out of prison.”
However, he warned: “When you are on bail, the risk of being rearrested is much higher than for ordinary dissidents.”
Ai told the Guardian last month that he had accepted a teaching job at a university in Berlin, but it is unclear whether he will be allowed to leave China.
Meanwhile, Ran Yunfei has been allowed to return home after spending six months in a detention center, his lawyer said yesterday.
His lawyer told Agence France-Presse his client had been let out of the detention center, but remained under house arrest in his home town of Chengdu.
“I haven’t had the chance to talk with him, but you know his case hasn’t been withdrawn, he was just transferred from prison to his place,” lawyer Ran Tong said by telephone from Chengdu.
The move comes ahead of a visit by US Vice President Joseph Biden to Chengdu later this month. China has in the past released dissidents ahead of visits by foreign dignitaries.
Officials in Chengdu declined to say whether Ran had been released, but three friends of the writer confirmed that he had been transferred to house arrest.
“I just can tell you it’s true, but I can’t say more. I was told this morning that Ran’s family can’t take any interviews,” Jiang Rong (姜戎) said.
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