BEIJING — One of China’s more prolific bloggers, whose introspective musings on democracy, human rights and fatherhood earned him tens of thousands of followers but also charges of inciting subversion, was unexpectedly released after nearly six months in police custody, his wife said Wednesday.
The blogger, Ran Yunfei, 43, returned to his home in Sichuan Province late Tuesday from a detention center in the city of Dujiangyan, his wife, Wang Wei, said by telephone. She declined to describe the conditions of his release, but a friend and human rights defense lawyer who spoke with him, Pu Zhiqiang, said Mr. Ran would be subject to six months of “residential restriction” during which his movements and his ability to speak or write publicly would be curtailed.
Rights advocates said the authorities were likely to drop the charges if Mr. Ran did not resume advocating political reform.
The charges against Mr. Ran could have led to 15 years in prison. His arrest in February was widely seen as the opening shot of a government campaign to head off any contagion from the protests that have toppled authoritarian Arab governments.
Until his arrest, in the city of Chengdu, Mr. Ran’s daily blog writings and microblog postings provided readers with his thoughts on a range of topics, including the value of an uncensored media, the importance of charitable giving and his struggle with chronic back pain. Although he wrote about the so-called Arab Spring and his yearnings for a more open political system, he did not urge his followers to take to the streets against the ruling Communist Party.
Mr. Ran was a reluctant critic, saying he would rather be traveling, drinking wine and reading. “In a free country I would happily spend my life in the library doing research,” he said in one post. “But I live in a country where I cannot in good conscience merely live such a life. I feel that I have no alternative. I have to voice my criticisms of our messed up social reality. Otherwise I would be uneasy. I would not be able to sleep well.”
He was released just hours after Ai Weiwei, the artist and government critic, sent out a Twitter posting urging his followers to speak out about the prosecution of Mr. Ran and five other men. Rights advocates said the timing of his release was coincidental.
Renee Xia, the international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said that either the authorities lacked the evidence to prosecute him or they came to realize he played no role in the calls for a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” that originated overseas. “They also might have decided the bad publicity from prosecuting one of the country’s most prominent bloggers was not worth the trouble,” Ms. Xia said.
In recent months, more than two dozen dissidents and rights advocates have been detained in the crackdown. Some, like Liu Xianbin, another Sichuan activist prosecuted on charges of inciting state subversion, were given 10-year sentences. Others, like Mr. Ai and Tang Jingling, a lawyer from Guangzhou, have been granted conditional releases.
Mr. Pu, the rights lawyer, said he was hopeful that the release of Mr. Ran suggested that the government was easing up. “Whoever made this decision is courageous and wise,” he said.