China's best known artist, Ai Weiwei, has been stuck away in a Chinese jail since his arrest in early April. He was released today.

"I'm out. I'm fine," the Los Angeles Times quotes the artist as texting on his release.

We're delighted when anyone unjustly imprisoned for the sake of politics is released, but ReadWriteWeb has a particular connection to Ai.

Our founder, Richard MacManus, took part in a roundtable on digital activism with Ai in New York last year.

Since that time, Richard has written about his latest art opening, which took place in New York City while he was imprisoned, and about the efforts concerned Chinese were making to get him out. '

Why arrest Ai in the first place? He is an artist, free speech advocate and architect of global standing. Although he had never had a solo show in China, he designed the celebrated "Birds Nest" stadium that was the center of the Beijing Olympics. He allegedly had plans to relocate to Germany, where he had set up a studio. So, he is high-profile and has a big mouth, which he knows how to use. But his arrest was hardly the exception to the rule.

Since the Arab Spring has sent the scent of jasmine far beyond the borders of the Muslim world, one of the places it has reached is China. According to Amnesty International, Ai was only "one of over 130 activists, lawyers, bloggers and tweeters detained since February in a sweeping crackdown on dissent prompted by government fears of a 'Jasmine Revolution' inspired by the Middle East and North Africa."

We wrote about this crackdown, and the accompanying surge in Chinese military spending, in March. Some have suggested this particular campaign in the war on free expression has ended and Ai's release may be a part of that draw-down. Perhaps. The war as a whole is not remotely over, however.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, as excusing Ai's release "because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from."

Ai photo via Wikimedia Commons