No interviews, Twitter, travel for Ai Weiwei

BEIJING Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:52am EDT

1 of 4. Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei stands in the entrance of his studio after being released on bail in Beijing June 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

BEIJING (Reuters) - No talking, no tweeting and no travel for a year -- these are some of the conditions of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei's release from more than two months in detention, underscoring Beijing's efforts to muzzle dissent.

The comprehensive gag on Ai, who is not allowed to post anything on Twitter or accept interviews for a year, raises questions about the Chinese government's repeated claims that his detention was based on economic crimes.

"The key thing is these two conditions -- the media and the Internet," a source close to the family told Reuters on Friday.

Ai has freedom of movement within Beijing, but before he "goes out, he needs to report his whereabouts to them" for a year, the source said, but declined to elaborate who Ai needs to report to.

The 54-year-old artist was released on bail on Wednesday, a day before Premier Wen Jiabao left for Europe, where Britain and Germany have criticized Ai's detention.

China has denied that international outcry over the detention of the world-famous artist had pressured Beijing into his release. But secret detention continues for Ai's three lesser known associates lost in his shadow.

Chinese authorities have not provided information about the location or charges facing Ai's assistant Wen Tao, his accountant Hu Mingfen and designer Liu Zhenggang, who all went missing in April amid a crackdown on dissidents and activists.

"It is the least famous among them who are at the most risk," Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific, said in a statement calling for their release and information on charges.

ILLEGAL RESTRICTIONS

Prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said it was illegal for the government to restrict Ai from tweeting or accepting interviews.

"A strong government that is ruled by law cannot impose conditions like these on its citizens," Pu said. "If there is indeed a criminal case, why isn't there a mention of it? Up until now, there hasn't been a notice of the case.

"This behavior is illegal -- it's in violation of the United Nations conventions."

Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, as authorities fear these websites could allow the government's critics to organize.

But many people, including dissidents, use virtual private networks to circumvent the restrictions.

Ai has 89,117 followers on Twitter and has tweeted 60,162 times -- the last occasion being on April 3, the day he was detained.

Analysts say Ai's release is far from a signal of a policy shift by the ruling Communist Party. Authorities have muzzled dissent with the secretive detentions of more than 130 lawyers and activists since February, amid fears that anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world could trigger unrest.

The Foreign Ministry said Ai, who had a hand in designing the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, remained under investigation for suspicion of economic crimes.

But police have issued no formal notice to explain why he was being held. Ai's family says the allegations are an excuse to silence his criticism.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Yoko Nishikawa)

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