Chinese artist Ai Weiwei today made his first anti-government comments since his release from detention, using Twitter to hit out at the treatment of colleagues and fellow dissidents.
Ai, who has made few public comments since he was freed in June after three months in detention, said colleagues who were incarcerated “because of me” had suffered “great mental abuse and physical torture”.
The artist said Liu Zhenggang, a designer at his studio, had come close to death after suffering a heart attack during the time he spent in detention.
“Today I saw Liu Zhenggang, it was the first time he had spoken about this imprisonment,” said Ai in a tweet on Tuesday.
“He raised his right hand and said, ‘Sir, I want to drink water’. Then this strong man burst into tears… He had a heart attack when was in prison and almost died.”
In a separate tweet, Ai said three other people he had worked with — accountant Hu Mingfen; Wen Tao, Ai’s assistant, and Zhang Jinsong, the artist’s cousin and driver, had been “illegally imprisoned”.
They and Liu had “innocently suffered great mental abuse and physical torture,” he said.
Another Tweet urged his followers to speak out in support of two dissidents, the renowned human rights activist Wang Lihong and Ran Yunfei, a writer.
Ai tweeted on Saturday for the first time since he was taken into custody at Beijing’s international airport on April 3 while trying to board a flight to Hong Kong.
Twitter is officially blocked in China but many web users still manage to access the site via virtual proxy networks (VPNs).
The artist, whose work is often showcased abroad, said after his release he could not speak to the press about the case against him.
Chinese authorities have said the burly avant-garde artist, an outspoken critic of the Communist Party, was detained for tax evasion, and barred him from leaving Beijing for a year after his release.
Rights groups have however said the outspoken 54-year-old was detained as part of a wider clampdown on activists launched in February.
The government said he was freed on June 22 because of his “good attitude” in admitting to the charges against him, his willingness to repay taxes he owes and on medical grounds. He has diabetes.