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Chinese government muzzles Ai Weiwei: no talking, no tweeting and no travel for a year

from Reuters:

BEIJING | Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:34am EDT

(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.

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 behaviour 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 organise.

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.