It is too soon to tell what kind of restrictions Mr. Ai might face on his ability to work, socialize or communicate with the outside world. Any impulse to speak out might also be tempered by the knowledge that three of his associates — a designer, an accountant and one of his assistants — remain in detention as part of the financial inquiry that his family says his groundless.
Even as they celebrated his release on Thursday, some human rights advocates said they feared the government might have successfully muzzled one of the nation’s most renownedvoices of conscience.
“A political power can easily silence an individual,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a rights lawyer in Beijing. “But in doing so, it also shows its fear and lack of confidence. And it also shows to the world the failings of China’s legal system.”