by Robert Sullivan

Ai Weiwei was released on bail late Wednesday night after being detained by Chinese authorities for nearly three months.

Xinhua first reported the artist’s release in a brief dispatch shortly after 10pm Wednesday:

The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.

The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded, police said.

The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said.

The Chinese term for the condition of his release is ‘qubao houshen’, which roughly translates to obtaining a guarantee pending trial.  In practice, this usually means that prosecutors have decided to drop charges, though suspects effectively remain on probation for a year and can be subject to restrictions on their movement, who they meet and communicate with, and other arbitrary measures that can lead to a subsequent detention.

Ai Weiwei outside his studio after being released. Photo: The Telegraph

Speaking to the New York Times, Jerome A. Cohen, an expert in Chinese law at New York University explained that Ai’s release on qubao houshen was the best possible outcome given the circumstances of the case:

This is a technique that the public security authorities sometimes use as a face-saving device to end controversial cases that are unwise or unnecessary for them to prosecute.

Often in such cases, a compromise has been reached in negotiation with the suspect, as apparently it has been here.

Ai declined to speak at length with the media upon returning home, explaining that he was on bail and wasn’t able to comment about his detention.

Despite the conditions tied to his release, it appears that international pressure on the Chinese government has paid off. Fabricated or not, tax evasion is taken very seriously in China, and until this year was punishable by death in extreme cases.

The government may also be looking to pick their battles as they go on the defensive with Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan due to arrive in Beijing next week. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide.

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Ai Weiwei speaking to The Telegraph after his release