Chinese authorities released dissident artist Ai Weiwei from house arrest on Monday - a little more than two days after detaining him at his compound in Beijing. Ai's release comes as human rights activists say China is cracking down on dissent and international calls to free Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo grow ahead of this week's G-20 summit in Seoul, South Korea.
Although artist dissident Ai Weiwei was unable to attend a protest party he had planned outside his soon to be demolished studio in Shanghai on Sunday, hundreds of his friends went ahead with the event.
Ai says the fact that the party was still held is a sign of how China is changing. Ai says he thinks the days of people censoring themselves and being afraid have passed. He says many people, especially young people, "can freely show their smiles and have the courage to voice their own opinions."
Ai's newly constructed million-dollar studio in Shanghai was ordered to be demolished after allegedly violating land use and construction laws. Ai helped design the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. But the artist frequently has had run-ins with Chinese authorities.
He was allowed to go to Munich last year for an exhibit criticizing the government's response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. But several months earlier, he was severely beaten by police in Chengdu after having traveled there to testify in the trial of a fellow activist.
Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo remains imprisoned in China where he is serving an 11 year sentence for trying to subvert the state. Liu co-authored an online petition that called for democratic reform in China.
Maran Turner, executive director of Freedom Now, which represents Liu Xiaobo as his international legal counsel, says Liu's situation has not changed since he was named the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient last month. "His case before the Chinese courts has been exhausted, and so there is really no where to go in China. We've taken his case to some international venues like the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to try to get him a fair hearing there. But unfortunately, he is still sitting in prison with very few visits from his attorney or anyone else - certainly not his wife since she is sitting under house arrest," he said.
Turner says Liu Xiaobo's wife been held under house arrest since early October and that the group has not heard from her for almost two weeks. "Her contact with the outside world has now been fully shut off, meaning her phones have been broken, her lines cut. No Internet access. No nothing. What we heard previous to when that happened and when, I would say, the black hole happened. She was being permitted to leave the house and go to the grocery store and things like that, but she was always accompanied by police officers," he said.
In the weeks following the anouncement of Liu being named this year's Nobel peace prize winner, people who signed "Charter 08" -- the online political manifesto that Liu co-authored - have been placed under varying degrees of house arrest.
Human rights groups say Chinese authorities are stepping up an apparent campaign to limit information about Liu receiving the Nobel Prize, harassing members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, a writers' group that promotes freedom of expression. The PEN American Center says members of the group in China have been questioned by authorities, harassed and put under house arrest.
The Chinese government has accused the Nobel Committee of disrespecting China's judicial system and interfering in China's internal affairs for having name Liu as this year's peace prize winner.
Freedom Now's Maran Turner says China has warned several countries through diplomatic channels not to focus on Liu and the award.
But Turner says that as many as 15 Nobel Peace Prize winners have appealed to the leaders of the world's top 20 economies, asking them to help press Chinese President Hu Jintao during meetings this week in Seoul to release Liu Xiaobo and his wife. "China is doing its bit to make sure that everybody stays silent. And this is one opportunity where these world leaders can speak to him directly and I urge them to take that opportunity," he said.
The G-20 summit is scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Seoul.