Thursday, July 23, 2015
By Alexandra Zakreski After more than four years of restricted mobility, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has finally gotten his passport back from his country’s government and is free to travel overseas; the document was returned to him on Tuesday:
Following his arrest in April 2011, during which time the artist was held for 81 days in solitary confinement, his travel documents were confiscated and he was prohibited from leaving the country. While he was told by interrogators at the time that he was being investigated on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” upon his release to house arrest he was formally charged with a variety of spurious offences, including tax evasion and bigamy; these charges were widely condemned as being politically motivated. Ai was a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities long before his 2011 detention; he has produced countless works tackling such contentious issues as government censorship, corruption, Chinese cultural identity and the dichotomy between the country’s one-party rule and its economic ambitions. Despite living under near-constant surveillance since his release, Ai has continued to produce artworks, although they have been less overtly politically charged in recent years. Last month, the artist also opened his first solo exhibition on Chinese soil, a move interpreted by many as a sign that Chinese authorities were softening their stance towards the artist. Ai will reportedly take his first trip out of China to Germany to visit his son, who has been living there for a year. Following that, he will travel to London to lead the installation of his show at the Royal Academy of Arts. While CJFE celebrates the lifting of travel restrictions on Ai Weiwei, it coincides with a disturbing crackdown on activists and human rights defenders in China. It has been reported that over the weekend of July 11-12, 106 human rights defenders, lawyers and legal staff were detained, questioned or forcibly disappeared. In particular, Chinese authorities are targeting lawyers defending activists on human rights grounds. Some observers have even speculated that the return of Ai Weiwei’s passport was strategically timed to divert attention from the unprecedented persecution of human rights lawyers currently occurring in mainland China. CJFE strongly urges Chinese authorities to cease in their campaign of harassment and intimidation of civil society, and also to free all prisoners of conscience in the country; the Committee to Protect Journalists named China the number one jailer of journalists worldwide in 2014.
Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE’s International Programs Coordinator.
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