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Ai Weiwei gives China state press first interview

10 august 2011, 18:18
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a prominent critic of China's Communist leaders, has given his first full interview since his release from detention to a state newspaper with close links to the party, AFP reports.

The interview, billed as an "exclusive", appeared in the English-language edition of the Global Times newspaper on Wednesday -- a day after Ai used Twitter to make his first anti-government comments since he was freed.

The avant-garde artist, whose works have been displayed around the world, has long been an outspoken critic of China's Communist Party leaders -- once referring to them as "gangsters".

It was not immediately clear why he gave the interview, in which he made a series of unusually non-critical comments and said he had never called for a change to the "form" of China's government.

"Overthrowing the regime through a radical revolution is not the way to solve China's problems," he said in the interview, which was not published in the paper's Chinese edition.

"No one is above the law," the 54-year-old told the Global Times, whose English-language edition is aimed at foreign readers.

Ai -- whose three-month detention on tax evasion charges sparked international condemnation -- confirmed to AFP that the interview was genuine and said he thought China's official censors had given the green light for it.

The normally outspoken artist has given brief comments to journalists, but consistently refused to give in-depth interviews since his June release, citing a ban by authorities.

"It was arranged by the Global Times, and it will have been checked at all levels," he said. The newspaper is part of the same group as the People's Daily -- China's Communist Party mouthpiece.

The interview set Ai's voice against that of critics who accuse him of cozy connections with anti-China interests.

The newspaper quoted Wu Danhong, assistant professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, saying Ai "may be in cahoots with an unseen international conspiracy".

"By condemning China's repression of dissidents in the name of democracy, foreign countries that don't want a stronger China intentionally attempt to descend China into turmoil by hyping Ai's case," Wu said.

Anne-Marie Brady, a Chinese media expert at New Zealand's University of Canterbury, told AFP the interview was likely to have been carefully placed.

"The propaganda department probably wants to take the heat out of the international attention that's been paid to the situation with Ai Weiwei and other people who have been put under house arrest for political reasons," she said.

Ai has been barred from leaving Beijing for a year following his detention, which rights groups say was part of a wider crackdown on government critics amid official jitters that unrest in the Arab world would spread to China.

His comments in the Global Times contrasted sharply with anti-government remarks he posted on his Twitter account -- in violation of the terms of his bail -- where he hit out at the treatment of colleagues and fellow dissidents.

One of his Tweets Tuesday urged his followers to speak out in support of two dissidents -- renowned human rights activist Wang Lihong and Ran Yunfei, a writer.

On the same day, Ran was allowed to return to his home in southwestern China after spending six months in detention, as part of the government crackdown.

Ran, 43, was detained in his hometown of Chengdu, Sichuan province, on February 20 on charges of "inciting subversion" linked to calls for Chinese citizens to join protests echoing anti-government unrest in the Middle East.

His lawyer Ran Tong told AFP by phone that his client had been let out of a detention centre in Chengdu, but remained under house arrest and still faces charges.

Human Rights Watch Senior Asia Researcher Nicholas Bequelin said that Ran's release was an "encouraging development in respect to other cases too".

"The charges (against Ran) were baseless even by Chinese state security standards," Bequelin told AFP in an email.

"Also, it may indicate that the results of the nationwide investigation regarding the online calls for Arab Spring-style peaceful protests in China showed that there was no domestic involvement."

Ran's transfer comes ahead of a visit by US Vice President Joseph Biden to Chengdu later this month. China has in the past released dissidents ahead of visits by foreign dignitaries.

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