Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has reportedly received a Twitter ban included in the conditions of his recently agreed one-year long bail, according to media reports.
The Telegraph, amongst many others, claims he will be unable to address his 89,000 plus Twitter followers although these details remain unconfirmed by Ai himself who is additionally banned from talking to media during the agreed bail period.
Ai has freedom of movement within Beijing, but before he “goes out, he needs to report his whereabouts to them” for a year, a source told the Reuters news agency.
When he was released, he told The Daily Telegraph: “Please understand, however that I cannot accept interviews. I am out on bail for one year, that is all I can say.”
Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, as authorities fear these websites could allow the government’s critics to organise. But many people, including dissidents, use virtual private networks to circumvent the restrictions.
Ai has more than 89,000 followers on Twitter and has tweeted 60,162 times – the last occasion being on April 3, the day he was detained.
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.
Indeed, as I mentioned only last week, microblogging is changing the way in which Chinese society communicates. However, unlike the majority of Chinese to tweet from Sina Weibo – which enjoys a registered user base of 140 million – Ai is notable for his use of Twitter despite the fact that it remains banned from Chinese webspace.
Twitter gives Ai an important link to the world outside of China. Despite the fact that he tweets in Chinese, this link gives his plight and his criticisms of the government greater reach and the potential to be most hurtful to China.
Media bans are not an uncommon condition of bail, particularly in Asia, and though a ban on Twitter is probably covered under ‘media’, it would be interesting to know if Ai was explicitly told to avoid using microblogging given its long-standing role as a platform through which his voice and criticisms are heard.
Quotes from sources close to Ai published by Reuters suggest that certainly the internet ban was clearly relayed to him:
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.