Ai Weiwei, released after 80 days. Photo: Ng Han Guan/AP
"Ai Weiwei’s release on bail by the Chinese government must not diminish the international outcry about other activists detained during this year’s ‘Jasmine’ crackdown," Amnesty International writes, noting that the artist is out on bail just as Chinese premier Wen Jiabao is heading to the UK and Germany, countries where Ai is popular and has shown work (think: his sunflower seed installation at Tate and his show at neugerriemschneider in Berlin, to name two).
“His release on bail can be seen as a tokenistic move by the government to deflect mounting criticism," Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific, says. “It is vital that the international outcry over Ai Weiwei be extended to those activists still languishing in secret detention or charged with inciting subversion.”
More than 130 activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers are still held by Chinese authorities. Among them are Ai's associates, Wen Tao, Hu Mingfen, Liu Zhenggang and Zhang Jinsong.
“While Ai Weiwei’s release is an important step, he must now be granted his full liberty, and not be held in illegal house arrest as has been the pattern with so many others recently released from arbitrary detention," Baber said. “The reality is that his long detention without charge violated China’s own legal process."
Roderic Wye, a China analyst at a London think tank, offers a different perspective on the timing with The Guardian:
"I think the timing is one of coincidence rather than a deliberate signal. In the post-Tiananmen days, there was the occasional high-profile person released, but usually before a US presidential visit rather than a trip to Europe, with all due respect to our leaders. The whole point for China is: we don't give in to pressure these days, China is big enough to make its own decisions without taking foreign pressure into account."