On Eve of Documentary Release, China Lifts Artist/Activist Ai Weiwei's Bail Conditions

On Eve of Documentary Release, China Lifts Artist/Activist Ai Weiwei's Bail Conditions

The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, whose life and work are chronicled in the upcoming documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," was freed from house arrest in Beijing this week -- but he is still unable to travel outside the country, and the threat of additional charges continue to hang over his head.

"In terms of what could have happened, this is an important week," director Alison Klayman told TheWrap on Friday. "But there is a lot that remains murky."

Klayman, who speaks fluent Mandarin, said the best way to follow news of the case has been on Twitter. Information there has ranged from Weiwei's own comments to those from journalists on the ground in Bejing and other observers -- including some who immediately posted photos of the signs alerting bus riders in Beijing that several buses would bypass stations near the courthouse during a Weiwei hearing earlier in the week.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Weiwei, an artist who has been one of the regime's most high-profile critics after rising to fame as a designer whose work included work on the "bird's nest" stadium used at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

He was fined 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) for tax evasion, his studio was demolished and he was put in detention for 81 days and forbidden from giving interviews or using Twitter (a condition he has ignored).

For the last year, he has not been able to leave his house without notifying authorities of his whereabouts. Earlier this week, Weiwei himself was told not to attend a hearing on his appeal of the tax fine.

But on Thursday, the artist and activist was given a paper indicating that the bail conditions under which he had been living since his release last June 22 had been lifted.

At the same time, though, Weiwei's passport was not returned to him, and the state warned that he faces additional prosecution for a number of crimes, including pornography and bigamy.

"With the bail conditions lifted, in theory there should be no restrictions on him," said Klayman. "But the lifting of bail conditions coupled with a reminder that he could be facing charges is a way for them to tell him that he's not yet totally off the hook."

The pornography and bigamy charges, she added, are "completely unfounded" claims that the government has made in the past, but "never moved forward on in any way."

The threat of a pornography charge relates to a playful and distinctly non-sexual photo that Weiwei's assistant took and posted online of the artist and four women; the subjects were all nude, but not touching. The bigamy charge was apparently threatened because the married Weiwei has a three-year-old son from a different relationship.

The Chinese government, wrote Weiwei in an op-ed piece for the Guardian on Thursday, "can't allow anybody to exercise their humanity and communicate or show support. But when your children are growing up and will never have a chance to have their voices heard, do you want to turn your face away and say OK, that's not my problem?"

With "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" due out on July 27, Klayman has wondered if her film will help marshall international pressure on the Chinese government, or if it will lead to further attempts to restrict and muffle Weiwei.

"I've always questioned the efficacy of international pressure," she said. "I wonder, will the pressure help, or will it make China react negatively? But I think the fact that he was released from detention after 81 days last year was due to all the outside attention.

"And although his life has been less free since then, it's better than before. International pressure does make a difference, and more people being aware of what is going on with him is not a bad thing."

Weiwei himself thanked outside pressure in his Guardian piece on Thursday.

"It gives me hope," he wrote. "Stupidity can win for a moment, but it can never really succeed because the nature of humans is to seek freedom. They can delay that freedom but they can't stop it."

Related Articles:

Military Rape Documentary 'Invisible War' Leads to Policy Changes Before Its Opening

Sundance Selects Takes North American Rights to Documentary 'Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry'

Human Rights Groups Rebuke Relativity Over Chinese Co-Production (Updated)