Ai release 'important signal': Germany

24th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei's release from prison is an "important signal," Germany said Friday, as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao embarked on a trip to Europe that will also take in Berlin.

"It is an important signal that Ai Weiwei is free and is living now between his own four walls," deputy government spokesman Christoph Steegmans told a regular government briefing.

He echoed Chancellor Angela Merkel in saying however that with Ai, 54, still prevented by the Chinese authorities from leaving Beijing, his release from prison was only a "first step."

"Naturally we hope there will be other steps," he said.

Ai was freed late Wednesday because of his "good attitude" in confessing to tax evasion, his willingness to repay taxes he owes, and on medical grounds, the government said.

His detention in April during a major government crackdown on activists launched in February sparked criticism led by rights groups and Western governments, with London and Berlin among the most vocal.

The artist's plight is set to come up during Wen's European tour beginning Friday to Hungary, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

He will travel on to Britain and Germany, where the official tour will wrap up on Tuesday.

The visit will be centred primarily on economic issues, however, with China the world's second largest economy and the European Union struggling to deal with a sovereign debt crisis among countries using the euro single currency.

Campaign groups including Amnesty International said in an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel published Friday that it would be a "fatal signal" if human rights are not properly discussed during Wen's visit.

"We ... call for human rights to be addressed in all high-ranking government talks as a central element in German-Chinese relations," Amnesty, the International Campaign for Tibet, Reporters Without Borders and the World Uyghur Congress said.

© 2011 AFP

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