VIENNA In fear for his life and abandoned by many peers during weeks of detention, dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is considering his future as a rights activist, he said in an interview with Austrian radio broadcast on Saturday.
"They can make me disappear. I have no protection, no lawyer," he said in a rare media interview conducted in connection with the opening of an exhibition of his work in Austria.
"So I have to be careful with (my actions) because I may lose my life," he added from his studio in China.
"I don't think there is any form of law (that) can protect me."
China's leading social critic has been under close watch as part of the strict terms of his release from custody in late June after 81 days.
Despite this, the artist, 54, has spoken out on his Twitter account on behalf of detained dissidents and his associates who were held at the same time as he was and have since been released.
Asked about calls by his family to take a break from activism and relax for a while, Ai said: "Frankly everybody said so -- friends, family, relatives.
"So I have to really examine and think. I have been trying to find a way to deal with the rest of the time."
Ai endured intense psychological pressure during his secretive detention and faces the threat of prison for alleged subversion, according to a source familiar with his detention.
Ai's incarceration ignited an outcry from many Western governments about China's tightening grip on dissent that started in February, when dozens of rights activists and dissidents were detained and arrested.
In the interview, Ai said there were thousands of professional artists in China but not one had piped up to ask what was happening during his detention.
"Nobody dared ask one question," he said, adding he was advising young artists to leave China because "this is crazy."
The artist, famed for his work on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing, was the best known internationally of the detained artists. His family has repeatedly said he was targeted by authorities for his outspoken criticism of censorship and Communist Party controls.
When Ai was released on bail, the Chinese government said he remained under investigation for suspicion of economic crimes, including tax evasion.
Ai told Reuters earlier that he had not received a formal notice from the authorities to explain the allegation of suspected economic crimes.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Elizabeth Piper)