|Ran is under home arrest and not allowed to speak to the press [Rebecca MacKinnon]|
Chinese writer and blogger Ran Yunfei, who advocated for Middle East-style social upheaval in his country, has been allowed to return home after spending six months in a detention centre, his lawyer and wife said on Wednesday.
Ran, 43, was detained in February on charges of “inciting subversion” during a wide-ranging crackdown on anonymous online calls for citizens to join protests echoing those in the Arab world.
He returned to his home in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan province, on Tuesday night, said his wife, Wang Wei.
“It’s not convenient right now to accept interviews,” she told the AP news agency.
Ran’s lawyer told the AFP news agency that his client had been let out of the detention centre but remained under house arrest.
“I haven’t had the chance to talk with him, but you know his case hasn’t been withdrawn, he was just transferred from prison to his place,” lawyer Ran Tong said by telephone from Chengdu.
Officials in Chengdu contacted by AFP declined to say whether Ran had been released, but three friends of the writer confirmed that he had been transferred to house arrest.
“I just can tell you it’s true, but I can’t say more. I was told this morning that Ran’s family can’t take any interviews,” one of the friends, Jiang Rong, told AFP.
Ran’s release 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.
Dozens of activists, lawyers and bloggers were questioned, detained or disappeared in the crackdown, including the activist artist Ai Weiwei and rights lawyer Teng Biao, who were later released without criminal charges.
In Ran’s case, a court in Chengdu charged him in late March with inciting subversion of state power, but prosecutors recently sent the case back to police, said Ran’s friend Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent rights lawyer who spoke briefly to the blogger on Wednesday morning.
Pu said Ran was released into “residential surveillance” for a six-month period, under which he is not allowed to leave home or meet people without permission, and he may not speak publicly.
Pu welcomed Ran’s release as a sign the crackdown could be easing.
“Exercising control over these people showed the authorities’ fear of the democratic revolutions in the northern Africa,” Pu said.
“Now that they have been released, it could mean that this wave of social control is slowly loosening or gradually receding.”
Ran was a presence online for more than a decade. A self-described bookworm, he frequently criticised government policies and called for tolerance for dissenting views.
When domestic websites would no longer carry his outspoken views, he moved his blogs and Twitter posts to sites outside China.
Many of his readers followed him, circumventing government blocks to read his material.
The writer’s release comes at a time when other previously detained high-profile dissidents and activists have taken small steps to emerge from silence.
Ai Weiwei has resumed posting on his Twitter page, calling on Tuesday for followers to support Ran and human rights activist Wang Linhong, who is still in detention and set to go on trial Friday.