Ai Wei Wei, Chinese Artist, Freed From Jail, With Gag Order

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Ai Wei Wei, the prominent artist and outspoken critic of the Chinese government whose arrest on April 3, 2011, spawned international demonstrations and outcry, has been released on bail. Via cell phone, the previously vocal artist and prolific tweeter reportedly said :"I'm released, I'm home, I'm fine... In legal terms, I'm -- how do you say? -- on bail. So I cannot give any interviews. But I'm fine." The Wall Street Journal reports that the artist has been banned from talking to the media for one year as a condition of his release -- that includes Twitter posts.

According to Xinhua, a Chinese state-run news outlet, the Beijing police said that Ai Wei Wei had been released "because of his good attitude on confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from." His charges: tax evasion for his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. No word on how much tax is owed.

In recent years, Ai Wei Wei became increasingly linked to political activism in China, through both his actions and his art. Aside from his arrest, he is perhaps most famous among international audiences for his exhibition "Sunflower Seeds," which ran from October 2010 to early May 2011 at the Tate Modern in London. The exhibit, featuring 100 million sunflower seeds each hand-crafted from porcelain and painted by Chinese artists, played on themes of Chinese mass production and individuality.

His work is also currently showing in New York: "Ai Wei Wei: New York Photographs 1983-1993", at the Asia Society, runs though August 14, 2011. "Circle of Animals: Zodiac Head" will be at the Grand Army Plaza and Pulitzer Fountain through July 15.

Amnesty International and several Western media outlets suggest Ai Wei Wei's release is a calculated, particularly well-timed face-saving move, coming just two days before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's trip to Hungary, Britain, and Germany, countries whose governments and artists have been largely sympathetic to Ai's cause. Amnesty International also calls for the release of four of the Ai's other associates, who were jailed after Ai was detained.


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