Chinese artist Ai Weiwei under gag order

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is under a gag order and refused to speak to media about his detention a day after his release.

China says dissident artist cannot leave Beijing

Activist artist Ai Weiwei opens the gate to talk to journalists gathered outside his home in Beijing on Thursday. He refused to talk about his detention. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is under a gag order and refused to speak to media about his detention a day after his release.

The Chinese government also has banned the dissident artist from travel, issuing a statement Thursday saying he is out on "bail" after confessing to tax evasion.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Ai would be confined to Beijing for the next 12 months under the terms of his bail, though he is not under house arrest and would be permitted to move about the city.

"During this period, Ai Weiwei is still under investigation. Without permission... he is not allowed to leave his area of residence," Hong said.

The conditions of Ai's parole require him to report to police when asked.

A tired-looking Ai appeared briefly outside the gate of his studio in Beijing on Thursday. He told reporters he was happy to be home but he could not say any more to the media.

"I cut my own hair, looks more spirited," he said in Chinese, but he declined requests for interviews.

"Of course, it's great to be home," he said.

Formerly a critic of Chinese regime

The dissident artist has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese regime on his Twitter feed and blog and in public statements.

Among the subjects he has taken on are 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. 

He was arrested April 3 at the airport where he was to board a flight to Beijing and has been held for the past 10 weeks in an unknown location.

The son of a famous revolutionary poet and part of China's cultural elite, Ai has an international reputation. His detention drew criticism from artists and political leaders around the world.  

Concern about gag order

Alison Bailey, director of the Centre for Chinese Studies at University of British Columbia, welcomed Ai's release, but said she remains concerned that he has been silenced.

"I don't know exactly what agreement was reached that would allow him to be released. I think it would be difficult for him to carry on being as active as he was," she told CBC News in Vancouver.

Bailey pointed out that China still holds the people who were arrested alongside the artist.

"His driver, his accountant, his relative [are] still unaccounted for. His release is of course something to be celebrated, but whether he'll go back to what he was doing before, it's hard to say, I would hope he would."

Bailey said Ai has played an important role in "acting as a kind of memory keeper for victims of various natural disasters in China the main one being the 2008 Sichuan earthquake."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Ai was released late Wednesday after confessing to tax evasion and pledging to repay the money owed. His family has denied the allegations.

China arrested many dissidents this spring after online calls for protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa began to circulate. Many have yet to be released.

On Thursday, China's government released another prisoner: Xu Zerong, a Hong Kong-based political scientist sentenced in late 2001 to 10 years in jail for leaking state secrets and another three years for illegal business operations.

Rights groups say the main charge against him was that he had obtained and copied books on the Korean War and provided them to a scholar in South Korea.

With files from The Associated Press