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Two friends said the artist had confirmed, by text message, his release after more than two months of detention. Still, Mr. Ai's whereabouts remain unclear, and his family have yet to be notified officially of his release. "I'm back with my family," Ai told the Guardian. "I am very happy. I'm fine."
Ai's detention on April 3 prompted a global campaign for his release, and he became a fresh symbol of China's dissidents. An outspoken critic of China's human rights record, he went missing after he was detained by police at Beijing airport. His family and human rights activists believe his detention was retaliation for his social and political activism.
Officials claimed, when pressed, that he was detained on suspicion of economic crimes, but police did not notify, or apparently permit him to notify, his family of his arrest.
"His detention was political and his release is political," Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Guardian. "It is the result of a huge domestic and international outcry that forced the government to this resolution … I think Beijing realized how damaging it was to hold China's most famous artist in detention."
As staff writer Peter Ford reported for The Christian Science Monitor in April, Ai, who famously helped design Beijing's Olympic 'Bird's Nest' stadium, was among more than 100 activists in China to have disappeared, been detained, or confined to their homes in a wave of repression signaling deep anxiety over Arab revolts and the power of the Internet.
“They are afraid of what has happened in North Africa,” Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights lawyer told the Monitor in April. “A revolution in China is very unlikely, but the government is used to thinking of worst-case scenarios.”