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China Urges Freed Artist to Abide By Bail Release Terms

Activist artist Ai Weiwei gestures while speaking to journalists gathered outside his home in Beijing, June 23, 2011
Activist artist Ai Weiwei gestures while speaking to journalists gathered outside his home in Beijing, June 23, 2011

China is calling on freed artist-activist Ai Weiwei to abide by the terms of his bail release.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei provided details about the case of Ai Weiwei, the well-known artist-activist who disappeared into police custody April 3 and was released on bail late Wednesday.

Hong said for the next 12 months, Ai’s case is still under investigation and that Ai is not allowed to leave what he described as “the place where he is living” unless he has permission. The spokesman added that Ai must answer court summons in a timely manner, must not disrupt other witness testimony and must not destroy or falsify evidence.

Hong said the artist has confessed to evading taxes and destroying documents. He also said Ai agreed to repay what he described as “huge amounts” of back taxes.

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most internationally famous living artists. He is best known for helping to design the Bird’s Nest stadium, which was the centerpiece for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That same year, he also began speaking out for thousands of child victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, whom he says died because of shoddy school construction.

TV cameras filmed Ai when he returned home, but he had little to say.

He said he feels good, but cannot give interviews because of what he described “the situation he is in.” He asked for understanding.

The official Xinhua news agency announced Ai’s release, saying he was freed because he had shown a good attitude in confessing to tax evasion and suffers from chronic illness. The 54-year-old artist-activist suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer and close friend to Ai’s family, said he has only spoken with Ai on the phone, but does not yet have a detailed impression. He said he imagines Ai’s physical and psychological health are not good because he was detained for such a long time.

Liu also said he cannot confirm whether Ai is actually guilty of the crime that Xinhua says he confessed to, because he has not had a chance to talk to Ai about it yet.

Joshua Rosenzweig is with the Dui Hua Foundation, which monitors political prisoners in China.

“What this often means, switching to this status, often means that it is a way, sort of a face-saving way, for the authorities to quietly dispose of the case in accordance with the law, without further prosecuting it. So, that may be what is going on here,” explained Rosenzweig.

Rosenzweig also pointed to the timing of Ai’s release - right before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao heads to Britain, Germany and Hungary. European governments have been among the most vocal international voices calling for Ai’s release.

Meanwhile, there is no word on the fate of several of Ai’s work colleagues, who were detained shortly after him and remain in detention.