Fri, Jun 24, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Chinese release artist Ai Weiwei

AP and AFP, BEIJING

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves from the doorway of his studio after he was released on bail in Beijing yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), the most high-profile target of a sweeping crackdown on activists in China, has returned home after nearly three months in detention. Looking tired and thinner, he said the conditions of his release meant he could not talk more.

Xinhua news agency said Ai confessed to tax evasion, accusations his family had long denied and which activists had denounced as a pretense for detaining him. He has spoken out strongly against the Chinese Communist Party, and his family and supporters say he was being punished for speaking out about the leadership and social problems.

Ai, who was taken away on April 3, walked through the gate of his suburban home studio late on Wednesday with his mother and wife. He said his health was fine and thanked reporters outside his studio for their support, but said he could not speak further.

“I’m sorry I can’t [talk], I am on probation, please understand,” Ai said, speaking in English.

His detention sparked an international outcry, with the US and other countries saying it was a sign of China’s deteriorating human rights situation.

That international condemnation, along with Ai’s party connections as the son of one of China’s most famous modern poets, had convinced authorities to strike a deal with Ai on his release, said Jerome Cohen, a top expert on Chinese law at New York University.

He said Ai was most likely released on a form of bail that restricts suspects’ movements to their home city for one year. However, authorities can reopen the case at any time, meaning Ai faces the ever-present threat of being detained again on the same accusations.

Human rights groups and Western officials yesterday welcomed the release, but voiced dismay about the conditions and urged Beijing to free other activists.

Calling his release a “relief for his family, friends and supporters,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) nevertheless said that “troubling unanswered questions about his arrest, detention and conditions of release” remain.

The New York-based group said it was “concerned about the political nature of his arrest, the conditions under which the police may have extracted a ‘confession’ from him and possible restrictions on freedoms he faces.”

It also called for the release of other activists who have disappeared into police detention since mid-February when Beijing — nervous about online calls for protests echoing those in the Arab world — clamped down on dissent.

Amnesty International also hit out at Beijing, saying Ai’s long detention without charge “violated China’s own legal process,” and it urged the world to push for the release of other dissidents.

Meanwhile, in Taipei, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday called for the release of more dissidents detained by the Chinese government.

Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said Ma applauded Beijing’s move to release Ai, but expressed concerns about other dissidents, including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), who are still in detention.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MO YAN-CHIH

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