Outspoken artist and government critic Ai Weiwei talked about giving himself a haircut Thursday but said little else in his first day out of detention, living under a gag order that underscores concerns about China's growing use of extralegal methods to muzzle dissent.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Ai was released from nearly three months of detention after confessing to tax evasion and pledging to repay the money owed. It said the conditions of his parole require him to report to police when asked and bar him from leaving Beijing without permission for one year.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman did not mention the gag order, but ever since his unexpected release late Wednesday, Ai has told the foreign reporters thronging the gate to his suburban Beijing workshop and home that he is not allowed to talk.
On Thursday, he emerged from the doorway with freshly cut hair and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his name in giant black letters.
"I cut my own hair, looks more spirited," he explained in Chinese. But he said he couldn't give any interviews or say anything about his case.
"Of course it's great to be home," he said.
Internationally renowned for mocking, satirical art, the 54-year-old Ai became the highest profile casualty in a spring crackdown to stop Chinese from imitating the democratic uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dozens of rights activists, lawyers and others have been detained, put under house arrest or disappeared.
Ai's silence deepens suspicions about his treatment since his detention. His once-lively Twitter account has remained dormant, the last posting a message from 3 April, just before he disappeared.
Ai's family has denied the accusations of tax evasion ever since they were presented in April. Activists have denounced them as a false premise for detaining an artist who spoke out against the authoritarian government and its repression of civil liberties.
Beijing-based rights activist and lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said Ai's detention was "politically motivated, and so is his release."
"The whole incident is only 'legal' in appearance," said Pu, a friend of Ai. "In reality, it has nothing to do with the law." In a sign of Ai's appeal among some Chinese, several supporters showed up outside his compound Thursday, despite a police presence. Two Chinese men pasted posters, one in English and other in Chinese, that read "I love you Ai Weiwei" to the door of his compound.