Ai Weiwei says cannot leave China as bail term ends

BEIJING - Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Thursday he was still barred from leaving the country despite the expiry of a one-year bail term that included a stringent travel ban.

The 55-year-old spent 81 days in custody last year after being detained trying to board a flight at Beijing's international airport as police rounded up dissidents amid online calls for Arab Spring-style protests in China.

On his release on June 22, 2011 his passport was taken away from him and he was ordered not to leave Beijing for a year after authorities accused him of tax evasion.

On Thursday, Ai - whose works are displayed around the world - told AFP he had received an official order announcing the lifting of his bail term, but that he was still barred from leaving the country.

"This morning, I went to the police station.... My one-year probation is finished but they said they will still limit my rights to travel," he said. "The order says I cannot travel outside of China."

Ai said he was unsure whether he was now able to leave the capital, but that the order did not specify that he was prohibited from travelling within China.

"They said I'm still under investigation for my other crimes. So I said,'you have to make a case, you can't just say that'."

Ai's detention last year sparked an international outcry, with the United States and the European Union leading calls for his release.

The official Xinhua news agency said after Ai's release he had "confessed" to tax evasion via the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company he set up but which is legally registered in his wife's name.

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