Associates of Ai Weiwei who had been subjected to enforced disappearance along with the Chinese artist since April have been released, according to media reports today.
Wen Tao, Hu Mingfen and Liu Zhenggang were reportedly freed late on Thursday or early Friday, following the release of Ai and his cousin earlier in the week. Their families had never been informed of their whereabouts or legal status.
Ai Weiwei and his business associates were just a few of least 130 activists, lawyers, bloggers and low-level “netizens” who have been detained, forcibly disappeared, harassed and imprisoned within their homes since February.
Other activists who remain in detention include Tang Jingling, a Guangdong-based lawyer who has been missing since 22 February, reportedly under residential surveillance for "inciting subversion". Friends of Tang, who has defended workers detained for protesting poor working conditions or unpaid labour, believe the authorities are holding him at a government-run training centre in Panyu city, Guangdong.
Also languishing in detention is internet activist Liang Haiyi, who was reportedly taken away by police on 19 February in the northern Chinese city of Harbin for sharing videos and information about the “Jasmine Revolution” on the internet. Her lawyer has confirmed she is detained on suspicion of “subversion of state power”.
The sweeping action against dissenters has been prompted by government fears of a “Jasmine Revolution” inspired by the Middle East and North Africa.
Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Deputy Director Catherine Baber said:
“While these releases are an important step and good news for those freed, it is essential that the international community remain focused on the many other lesser known individuals whose situation remains a serious cause for concern.”
Ai Weiwei was released on bail on Wednesday and his driver Zhang Jinsong - also his cousin - was released the following day. Both men appear to be closely monitored by police although the Chinese authorities have said publicly only that Ai Weiwei may not leave Beijing, not that he is under house arrest. He must also report to police immediately if called.
Ai Weiwei has spoken to some reporters informally but says he is not allowed to give interviews to media, or use Twitter or other social media. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that restrictions on Ai Weiwei are in place for one year whilst he remains “under investigation”. The Chinese authorities did not formally arrest, charge or indict Ai Weiwei with any crime. They only announced that he had "confessed" to alleged economic crimes.
Catherine Baber added:
“As Ai Weiwei has not been charged with any offence, we are concerned that the restrictions imposed on him are arbitrary. They violate his rights to freedom of expression, association and movement and should be lifted.”