- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BEIJING (AP) — Renowned Chinese artist AiWeiwei, among the most prominent activists detained in China’s sweeping recent crackdown, was released on bail Wednesday after state media said he confessed to tax evasion, accusations his family has denied.

Mr. Ai said his health was fine as he thanked reporters for their support outside his studio late Wednesday, but under the conditions of his release, he said, he was not able to say more.

Hundreds of Chinese lawyers, activists and other intellectuals have disappeared or been questioned or detained by authorities in the ongoing clampdown, and those released almost universally have kept silent, possibly fearing repercussions.

The three-paragraph Xinhua News Agency report late Wednesday said Mr. Ai was released because of his poor health and because he had shown a “good attitude in confessing his crimes” and repeatedly pledged to pay taxes he owed.


Xinhua repeated earlier allegations in state media that a company linked to Mr. Ai, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., had evaded a “huge amount” of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents.

Formal charges against him never have been announced, and the state media report did not mention any pending charges or trial.

Mr. Ai’s family and supporters have dismissed the tax evasion accusations, and Lu Qing, Mr. Ai’s wife, said the company in question is registered and belongs to her, not him. The company handles the business aspects of Mr. Ai’s art career.

Mr. Ai is among China’s most internationally known artists and had a hand in designing Beijing’s iconic National Stadium, popularly known as the “Bird’s Nest,” for the 2008 Summer Olympics before souring on the event. His fame has soared in recent years, both for his groundbreaking art and his bold irreverence toward authority.

Mr. Ai’s detention at Beijing’s airport on April 3 made him the most famous victim of a sweeping crackdown against dissent in China that began in February when online calls for protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa began to circulate.

Mr. Ai had been keeping an informal tally of the detentions on Twitter.

Mr. Ai was held under a form of detention known as residential surveillance somewhere outside Beijing. Mrs. Lu was permitted one brief, monitored meeting, after which she said he seemed well cared for and was not being held in a formal jail.

Mr. Ai suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes. He told Mrs. Lu during her May visit that he was taking long walks every day, had his blood pressure checked seven times a day, and was eating and sleeping well.

Mr. Ai’s detention prompted an international outcry among artists, politicians and human rights activists, and Western leaders called it a sign of China’s deteriorating human rights situation. His family and supporters said he was being punished for speaking out about the communist leadership and social problems.

Mr. Ai also has spoken critically about a number of national scandals, including the deaths of students in shoddily built schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, children killed or sickened by tainted infant formula, and a deadly high-rise fire in Shanghai that killed 58 and was blamed on negligent workers and corrupt inspectors.

Associated Press reporter Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.