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Ai Weiwei released on bail, returns home

After almost three months of detention by Chinese government authorities, Ai Weiwei was released yesterday on bail and returned to his home in Beijing.

On April 3, 2011, as he was attempting to fly to Hong Kong, Ai was seized by Chinese government agents and held incommunicado. Charges against him were not stated immediately, but only weeks later, and include supposed tax evasion and destruction of documents.

Hundreds of arts institutions, thousands of people - artists, critics, curators, museum directors etc. - have been following this unlawful detention. It has become an essential issue of free speech that has transfixed the art world, has precipitated massive signing of petitions, with lots of coverage in both the cultural and mainstream press.

Previous government harassment against Ai has included beatings, bulldozing his studio in Shanghai, and shutting down his blog.

Ai's final release on bail, predicated on his confessing to trumped up "economic crimes", avoids the obvious reason for his detention: his consistent posture of criticism of the totalitarian excesses of the Chinese government.

He is by no means out of danger yet. The terms of release negotiated with the Chinese government - similar to "bail", but called “qubao houshen” - prevents him from speaking on his detention, as is obvious in the above video. Typically, prosecutors drop charges against a suspect on certain conditions, including "good behavior", while subjecting him to monitoring over a period of time during which charges could be reintroduced. He could still be tried on the bogus tax charges, while his words and activities are being closely watched by Chinese authorities. So the situation, while improved, is still tenuous.

It will be interesting to see how Ai Weiwei proceeds, based on the terms of release he negotiated with Chinese authorities. How will his detention affect his art making, his status as provocateur, dissident and gadfly within China, continually offering a critique of the entrenched Communist Party bureaucracy, its cruelty, abuses and expedience?