Chinese authorities have released prominent Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei on bail following intense pressure from foreign governments, rights groups, and local activists.
Official Chinese media reported Wednesday that he was freed pending trial for "economic crimes."
Ai had been investigated "according to law" under charges of suspected economic crimes, and the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Co., which he controls, had been found to have engaged in deliberate tax evasion amounting to very large sums, Xinhua news agency reported.
"Ai Weiwei is being released according to law on bail to await trial," the agency quoted police sources as saying.
It said the decision was made "in view of the fact that Ai Weiwei confessed his crime, showed a good attitude, and of the fact that he suffers from chronic illness, and considering that he has offered many times of his own accord to pay back the money owed."
Chinese authorities at times use “economic crimes,” and specifically tax evasion charges, to try to silence dissenters, rights activists have said.
Ai, who has been a vocal critic of the government in the past, was detained by police at Beijing’s airport on April 3 and has been held for 78 days in an undisclosed location.Unable to speak to media
Calls to Ai's cell phone went unanswered on Wednesday. Ai was quoted by several media outlets and Twitter users as saying that he was unable to speak to the media under the terms of his release.
However, rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan confirmed Ai's release to RFA, saying that the trial was unlikely to result in further detention for the artist.
"His release pending trial means that he is basically totally free," Liu said after receiving a text message from Ai, who is to pay money to the government which police claim was due in taxes.
Ai's mother, Gao Ying, said she had had no notification of her son's release.
"Nobody has informed me of anything," Gao said. "It's the media who are telling me all the news."
Online activist He Peirong, known by her online nickname @pearlher, said on Twitter Wednesday that she had seen Ai since his release.
"Today I saw the venerable Ai," He wrote. "I was really happy. He said he couldn't talk to anyone because he is in the process of awaiting trial."
"He looked so worn and thin," wrote He, who recently journeyed to try to visit Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng and family, who are all being held under house arrest at their home.Homecoming
Chinese Twitter users welcomed the news of his release, passing around photos of Ai taken late in the evening of his homecoming, and commenting on his appearance.
His release follows intense international pressure and active campaigns by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese activists for his release.
Activists in the southwestern city of Chengdu recently hung posters urging Ai’s release on downtown public message boards and around college campuses.
Others have worn T-shirt carrying the words "Looking for Ai Weiwei," or "Love the future," which is a near-pun on the artist's name.
The campaign for Ai's release was also a key theme at this year's rally to commemorate the June 4 crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Last month, Ai's supporters released a video to mark the third anniversary of the devastating Sichuan earthquake, a focal point for many of Ai's activities.
Volunteers at Ai's studio released the video in honor of the victims of the May 12, 2008 quake, in which more than 87,000 people were reported dead or missing.
The video consists of harrowing interviews with black-clad parents whose children died in the quake, and who have braved beatings, official harassment, and detentions in an attempt to protest alleged shoddy construction in the quake-hit schools.
Ai posted the dead children's names, according to their Chinese character stroke order, on his Twitter account in time for the second anniversary last year. The Twitter account has more than 80,000 followers.Public inquiry
He also posted online an audio file more than three hours long in which volunteer netizens from all over China read out the names of the children in a somber protest against the government’s refusal to allow any kind of public inquiry into their deaths.
Sichuan authorities have already jailed one activist, writer Tan Zuoren, after he carried out an independent investigation into the children’s deaths and published it online.
Ai was named recently by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
His detention has drawn criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as from Amnesty International and other international rights groups.Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Cantonese service staff. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.