After 4 years, Chinese authorities return passport to artist Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Source: Los Angeles Times

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei regained his passport on Wednesday, more than four years after it was seized by authorities apparently in retaliation for his social and political activism.

Ai posted a selfie to Instagram at about 3 p.m. local time, holding his red People’s Republic of China passport up to the camera. “Today, I picked up my passport,” he wrote in a caption. The post has received more than 1,200 “likes” and nearly 200 comments, most of them supportive, as of press time.

“This morning I was notified to go to the border control office,” Ai said in an email. “There at the office, I received my passport back and verbal permission to say that my right to travel abroad was restored.

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“I was always very positive about my situation,” he said. “I did sense that it would happen one day, but, of course, that day could have been very distant.”

Andreas Johnsen, director of the 2013 documentary “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,” said the news was a shock -- but a pleasant one. “It’s extremely great, but it’s just sad it took so long,” he said.

Alison Klayman, director of the documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" released a year earlier, called the news "bittersweet," saying it "opens up a lot of hard-to-answer questions: What will happen next? Will he be safe to travel abroad and return freely? Why now and why did it take so long? Why was it taken away in the first place?"An arbitrary authority can be unsettling that way," she said.

Ai is best known for his postmodern, larger-than-life art installations, including works featuring bronze zodiac animal heads, bicycle frames fused together and millions of handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds spread out on a gallery floor.

He has also established a reputation as a fierce government critic with a significant social media following. He led a campaign to investigate government corruption in wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when shoddy school construction led to more than 5,000 student deaths.

In March, 2011, authorities detained him for 81 days under suspicion of subverting state power. After his release, police installed security cameras outside his Beijing courtyard home, hit him with a $2.5-million fine for “economic crimes” and confiscated his passport while he fought the case.

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