BEIJING – Colleagues of Ai Weiwei who were detained along with the outspoken Chinese artist were released around the same time he was, a close friend of Ai's said Saturday.
Ai was released Wednesday after nearly three months in detention. He was one of the most prominent activists detained in China's sweeping crackdown on dissent, which began in February.
Ai's driver Zhang Jinsong, designer Liu Zhenggang and accountant Hu Mingfen were all released this week, Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer and a close friend of Ai, said in a phone interview.
Liu said Ai confirmed that the three had been released but did not say exactly when. The 54-year-old Ai has said he is not allowed to discuss his case.
A studio assistant, Wen Tao, also has been released, said Liu Yanping, a volunteer who works with Ai. She said over the phone that Wen's girlfriend told her Saturday that he had been released.
Dozens of rights activists and lawyers have been detained, put under house arrest or disappeared, and several of those who have been released have kept almost totally silent ever since.
Ai was detained on April 3. The authoritarian government said he was released after confessing to tax evasion and pledging to repay the money owed. His family denies the allegations and activists have denounced them as a false premise for detaining an artist critical of the government.
Before his detention, Ai constantly blogged and Twittered on sensitive subjects including 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.
The Foreign Ministry said the conditions of Ai's parole require him to report to police when asked and bar him from leaving Beijing without permission for one year.