China releases artist Ai Weiwei on bail

Police have released high-profile artist Ai Weiwei on bail after he confessed to tax evasion.

Beijing: Police in China have released high-profile artist Ai Weiwei on bail after he confessed to tax evasion and because he suffers from a chronic disease, state media said on Wednesday.

The release of the outspoken dissident, who was taken into custody in April during the government`s biggest crackdown on activists in years, was somewhat unexpected, as authorities had suggested he was involved in massive tax fraud.

China`s state Xinhua news agency reported that Ai was willing to repay the taxes he owed, and would be released because of "his good attitude in confessing his crimes" and on medical grounds.

Relatives have said they did not know where the artist was being held after he was taken into custody at Beijing`s airport. His detention sparked an international outcry, with the West repeatedly calling for his release.

"He has not come back yet. The police haven`t told us he has been released. Journalists called us and told us about the Xinhua report," Ai`s sister Gao Ge late Wednesday.

Ai`s mobile was switched off. His wife and lawyer could not be immediately reached.

The burly, bearded avant-garde artist has angered authorities with his involvement in a number of sensitive activist campaigns and his criticism of the ruling Communist Party.

He investigated school collapses in the 2008 quake in the southwestern province of Sichuan, and launched a "citizen`s probe" into a Shanghai fire that killed 58 people in November last year.

His detention -- part of a major government crackdown on dissent, which follows online calls for demonstrations in China to emulate the "Jasmine" protests that have rocked the Arab world -- has raised hackles in the West.

The United States, Australia, Britain, France and Germany have joined Amnesty International and other rights groups in calling for the release of Ai, born in 1957, whose work was shown in London`s Tate Modern gallery this year.

In April, shortly after Ai was detained, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei -- when asked to provide details about his whereabouts -- chided foreign countries for supporting a "suspected criminal".

"The Chinese people also feel confused: why is that some people in some countries consider a Chinese suspected criminal as a hero? The Chinese people are unhappy about this," Hong said.

Ai joined Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British actor Colin Firth and Myanmar`s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi this year in Time magazine`s annual list of the world`s 100 most influential people.

Bureau Report

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