News / Asia

China Frees Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei

Activist artist Ai Weiwei (R) shakes hand with unidentified foreign journalists gathered outside his home in Beijing, June 22, 2011
Activist artist Ai Weiwei (R) shakes hand with unidentified foreign journalists gathered outside his home in Beijing, June 22, 2011

China has freed internationally known artist and dissident Ai Weiwei after nearly three months in detention.

The official Xinhua news agency says he was freed after confessing to tax evasion and because he suffers from a chronic illness.

But Ai told British television that his health is fine. The conditions of his release forbids him from giving any details about his time in detention.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls his release just a first step on clearing up the charges against him.

Amnesty International says now that Ai is out of prison, he must not be put under illegal house arrest like so many other Chinese dissidents.

Ai, whose works have been exhibited all over the world, was arrested in early April. Human rights activists, fellow artists and several foreign governments, including the United States, demanded his release. They say he committed no crimes, but was jailed because of his politics.

China has arrested large numbers of dissidents, rights activists, lawyers and others in the past several months. It also has clamped down on the news media, including foreign journalists and the Internet. Many regional analysts say China is making an effort to ensure the popular uprisings in the Middle East this year do not spread there.

Rights activists say Chinese officials often use charges of economic crimes to silence government critics.

This development comes ahead of a high-level U.S.-Chinese diplomatic meeting Saturday in Hawaii.

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