Prominent Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei fired his first salvo against the government Tuesday since his release from detention in June in actions that may have flouted stringent bail conditions imposed on him.
Risking a potential return to custody, he used Twitter to criticize the treatment of his colleagues and fellow dissidents incarcerated "because of me" and who had suffered "great mental abuse and physical torture."
The outspoken 54-year-old artist said Liu Zhenggang, a designer at his studio, had nearly died after suffering a heart attack while in detention.
"Today I saw Liu Zhenggang, it was the first time he had spoken about this imprisonment," Ai, who has spoken very little publicly since he was freed after a three-month detention, said in a tweet on Tuesday.
"He [Liu] 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."
Liu's wife told RFA her husband was in a "very poor state of health in hospital."
"He has a severe heart ailment and it is not convenient to talk to you," she said.
Ai said in another tweet that others 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.
In yet another Tweet, Ai urged his followers to speak out in support of two dissidents, popular human rights activist Wang Lihong and writer Ran Yunfei.
"If you don't speak for Wang Lihong, and don't speak for Ran Yunfei, you are not just a person who will not stand up for fairness and justice; you do not have self-respect," he tweeted.
Wang could face trial in weeks for "creating a disturbance" after demonstrating in support of bloggers while Ran was detained in March and later formally charged with "inciting subversion of state power."
Ai said after his release from detention that he could not speak to the press about the case against him.
He confirmed to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday that he had written the tweets, adding: "It was the first time after my release that I had met my colleague. I was so shocked when I saw him ... He [had] a heart attack and his body was still not moving well. They treated him terribly and he almost died during his inhumane detention."
"So many people were related to my case and were inhumanely treated for so long ... How could society and the system do this kind of thing and use the name of justice?," according to the Guardian.
He said he was angry because he believed they had been ordered not to discuss their treatment with anyone.
Beijing released Ai pending trial for "economic crimes," having secured a promise from him to repay a large sum of money the government says was due in taxes, official media reported at that time.
Ai had been investigated "according to law" under charges of suspected economic crimes, and a company it linked to him, the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Co., had been found to have engaged in deliberate tax evasion amounting to very large sums, Xinhua news agency said.
Rights groups however believe he was held as part of a wider clampdown on activists following online calls in February for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.
Ai is still under considerable restriction at his Beijing home following his release from detention pending trial for "tax evasion."
Chinese officials have warned that he is banned from leaving his "area of residence."
A popular netizen, preferring to be called just Xu, said Ai's latest criticism shows he can not be cowed into silence.
"At that time he was released, he was told he could not talk to media or others for at least a year," Xu noted.
"However Ai Weiwei broke this rule and this is very important and significant because the authorities accused him of tax evasion but now he disobeyed the order imposed by the authorities.
"The authorities can't do anything about it except keep him under house arrest. I think Ai Weiwei has realized that he can still express himself. I believe Ai Weiwei will be more active than before."
Twitter is officially blocked in China, but many web users still manage to access the site via virtual proxy networks (VPNs) that allow users to circumvent the country's system of Internet filters and blocks sometimes called the Great Firewall of China.
Ai's detention had drawn criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as from Amnesty International and other international rights groups.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Jia Yuan. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.