23 October 2016
Ai Weiwei can travel outside China for the first time in four years. Photo: Reuters
Ai Weiwei can travel outside China for the first time in four years. Photo: Reuters

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei gets passport back after 4 years

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei said authorities in Beijing have returned his passport more than four years after it was confiscated following his secret detention for 81 days, Reuters reported.

Ai, 58, said police from the Exit and Entry Bureau, which issues passports to Chinese citizens, called him Wednesday morning and asked him to collect his passport.

The decision to return his passport comes as a surprise amid a deepening crackdown on civil society in China.

Ai should now be able to attend a retrospective of his work at London’s Royal Academy of Art in September.

His absence would have generated unwanted negative headlines about China in Britain a month before President Xi Jinping is due to make a visit.

Ai said he is legally allowed to travel outside China, but that will depend on whether other countries issue him visas.

“I’m not surprised, because in reality, they’ve said for many years they would return me my passport,” Ai said.

Ai said the first country he would want to travel to is Germany, where he would like to have a medical check-up and visit his son, who has been living in Berlin for 11 months.

In 2011, Ai was detained without any charge and held mainly in solitary confinement, sparking an international outcry.

A court later upheld a US$2.4 million fine against Ai for tax evasion.

The world-renowned artist maintains that the charges from the tax evasion case were trumped up in retaliation for his criticism of the government.

Police did not give Ai “any additional conditions or warnings” for the return of his passport, he said. The whole thing was “very relaxed”.

Ai said government surveillance of him has eased substantially and that he was confident that authorities would allow him to return if he left.

“Now that they’ve let me go abroad, I believe they will let me return home,” he said.

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