BEIJING — The Chinese legal authorities released the dissident artist Ai Weiwei on Wednesday (June 22nd) after a three-month detention, apparently ending a prosecution that had become a focal point of criticism of China’s eroding human rights record.
Photographs of Mr. Ai taken as he arrived after 11 p.m. Wednesday at his vast studio in the Caochangdi arts district of northeast Beijing showed him smiling, wearing a blue T-shirt, and with his trademark bushy beard streaked with gray. The shirt hung loosely on him, his girth reduced during his time in custody.
The release of Mr. Ai, 54, who is widely known and admired outside of China, appeared to be a rare example in recent years of Beijing bowing to international pressure on human rights, though the terms of his release may silence him for months or even years, giving hard-liners here at least a partial victory. Mr. Ai was the most prominent of hundreds of people detained since China intensified a broad crackdown on critics of the government in February, when anonymous calls for mass protests modeled after the revolutions in the Arab world percolated on the Chinese Internet.
China’s move to douse any flicker of dissent was the harshest in years outside of the restive ethnic regions in the far west, and the vast majority of those detained in the crackdown were, like Mr. Ai, held in secret locations for weeks with no legal justification.