BEIJING, (Reuters) – The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose detention in April ignited an international uproar, was released on bail yesterday under conditions likely to keep the outspoken critic of Communist Party controls silent for now.
“I can’t say anything more, because I’m on bail,” Ai told reporters who had gathered outside his home after his release was reported by China’s official Xinhua news agency.
His abrupt release came days before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao heads to Europe, where Berlin and other capitals have been critical of Beijing’s secretive detention of Ai and dozens of other rights advocates, lawyers and dissidents.
But the Chinese government cast its apparent backdown as a vindication of their controversial case. Xinhua said Ai was freed “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from”, citing the police.
A company that police said he controlled “was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said,” according to Xinhua.
“The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded,” said the report. Family members and supporters have said the outspoken 54-year-old artist was a victim of a crackdown on political dissent that intensified after overseas Chinese websites in February called for protests in China to emulate anti-authoritarian uprisings in the Arab world. China’s courts and police are firmly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and it is unusual, but not unprecedented, for authorities to back away from a potential prosecution in a high-profile case like this.