Britain Limits Visit by the Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei


LONDON — The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been denied a normal six-month business visa by the British government, which said on Thursday that Mr. Ai had lied on his application by neglecting to declare that he had been convicted of a crime.

Instead, Mr. Ai, who has a major art installation opening in September at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was given an exceptional visa that allows him to remain in Britain from Sept. 9 to 29. That limitation means he will have to leave the country before the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, arrives for a state visit in October.

Mr. Ai is one of China’s most famous contemporary artists, but he has run into significant trouble with the Beijing government for his irreverence and his sometimes audacious protests. He was prevented from traveling abroad for four years, and got his passport back from the Chinese authorities only last week.

He denied lying on his visa application, and said he had never been convicted of a crime. His former lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, told The Associated Press in Beijing that a tax case was brought against a design firm that Mr. Ai is affiliated with, but not against him personally, and that although a fine was imposed, the matter is not criminal and has not been fully adjudicated.

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Ai Weiwei in Munich on Thursday with Wang Fen and their son, Ai Lao.

Credit
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

A British Foreign Office spokesman denied that there was any connection between the decision on Mr. Ai’s visa and Mr. Xi’s state visit. After Mr. Ai protested the denial of the visa on social media, the Home Office said in a statement: “All applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the relevant legislation. Mr. Ai has been granted a visa for the full duration of his requested dates of travel.”

Even so, there was immediate speculation that the British government, which has emphasized close economic and trade ties with China, had acted to ensure that Mr. Ai would not be in Britain at the same time as Mr. Xi and so could not embarrass him there.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has been criticized for an overly mercantilist foreign policy at the expense of human rights. After the Chinese reacted strongly to his meeting in May 2012 with the Dalai Lama, Mr. Cameron had to cancel a visit to Beijing planned for a year later when he was told that no Chinese leader would be free to see him.

Pressed by the chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, Mr. Cameron distanced Britain from the Dalai Lama and other controversial issues involving China.

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Ai Weiwei

Credit
Joerg Koch/Getty Images

Mr. Ai, 57, whose passport was confiscated in 2011 when he was detained for 81 days, flew on Thursday to Germany, where his 6-year-old son lives in Berlin. Mr. Ai said Germany had given him a multiple-entry visa good for four years.

Before he departed, Mr. Ai posted on his Instagram account the British letter about his visa, the visa itself, and his responses. The letter said that “it is a matter of public record that you have previously received a criminal conviction in China, and you have not declared this,” but went on to say that “an exception has been made in this instance.”

Mr. Ai has emphasized in interviews that he was never formally arrested and that the tax case was brought against his design firm, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., and not him personally.

“It’s not on me, it’s on the company,” Mr. Ai said last week.

A statement posted to Mr. Ai’s Instagram account, which included a photo of a toilet, said that he had tried to clarify his record in several telephone conversations with British officials. They “refused to admit any misjudgment,” the statement said.

“The decision is a denial of Ai Weiwei’s rights as an ordinary citizen, and a stand to take the position of those who caused sufferings for human rights defenders,” the statement said.

Correction: July 31, 2015

A picture caption with an earlier version of this story misidentified a woman in the picture, using information supplied by The Associated Press. She is Wang Fen, not Mr. Ai’s wife, Lu Qing.



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