After Silence, Dissident Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Speaks to State Media

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Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waving to reporters outside his studio in Beijing on June 23, 2011. (Photo: Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images)

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist who was detained for nearly three months earlier this year, has begun to speak out once again on Twitter. And after a period of silence following his June release, he has given his first lengthy interview, to the English-language edition of the Communist Party’s Global Times tabloid. Ai’s interview with the newspaper had flashes of his old defiance. “You give up your rights when you dodge them. Of course you might live an easier life if you abandon some rights,” he told the paper. “But there are so many injustices, and limited educational resources. They all diminish happiness. I will never stop fighting injustice.” At other points he sounded a distinctly measured tone and was quoted emphasizing the importance of “a scientific and democratic political system”—words that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Party official’s speech. The story quoted several experts who denied that Ai’s case had any connection to politics, but there was no word on that subject from the artist himself.

Before he was stopped by police at the Beijing airport in April, Ai was an outspoken critic of the Chinese government. He used Twitter, which is blocked in China but can be accessed through technological workarounds, to broadcast his complaints about corruption and the Communist Party’s heavy-handed rule to tens of thousands of followers. After he was detained, Beijing police said he was being investigated for “economic crimes.” He faces allegations that the company that handles his work failed to pay taxes for more than a decade, and authorities say he owes nearly $2 million in back taxes and fines. Upon his release in June, Ai said that he was prevented from using Twitter for a year and couldn’t give interviews.

But over the weekend he took up using the microblog service again, posting his first tweets since he was detained April 3 at the Beijing airport. (English translations of his tweets can be found here.) Along with a few innocuous posts, including a photo of a himself on a scale and a message that he had “10 dumplings for lunch, gained 3 kilos,” Ai posted messages about friends and colleagues who were also detained and the status of other dissidents in China. He said that Liu Zhenggang, a designer in Ai’s studio, suffered a heart attack while under detention. “They were illegally detained because of me,” Ai wrote of Liu, accountant Hu Mingfen, his friend and journalist Wen Tao, and driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong. “(Though) innocent they suffered huge mental devastation and physical torture.” He also drew attention to the cases of Ran Yunfei, a writer detained in February during a broad crackdown on political dissent, and Wang Lihong, an activist also detained in March. Ran was released Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported. Wang still faces charges of “creating a disturbance” in connection with a protest last year in support of a group of bloggers charged with defamation.