British Government Shamefully Denies Ai Weiwei Business Visa

The official reason was that he failed to declare "criminal" history.

Following initial jubilation after the return of his passport, Ai Weiwei was dealt a setback after his application for a six-month business visa to the UK was turned down by the British government. The reason provided for the denial was that Ai had failed to declare a criminal conviction in his application.

However, despite being subjected to a well-publicized 81 day detention in 2011, the dissident artist was never formally charged or convicted of a crime in China.

Following his release, Ai was ordered to repay $2.4 million in alleged unpaid taxes, a sum which the artist and his supporters insist was levied due to Ai’s sustained criticism of the Chinese government’s stance on human rights, democracy, and free speech.

Ai Weiwei published a picture of his 20-day visa on his Instagram. Photo: @aiww via Instagram

Ai Weiwei published a picture of his 20-day visa on his Instagram.
Photo: @aiww via Instagram.

A letter from the British embassy in Beijing, which Ai published on his Instagram feed, explains, “It is a matter of public record that you have previously received a criminal conviction in China, and you have not declared this.”

In a separate Instagram post, Ai refuted the claims, stating that he “has never been charged or convicted of a crime,” and that he “attempted to clarify this claim with the UK Visas and Immigration Department and the British Embassy in Beijing…but the representatives insisted on the accuracy of their sources.”

The post declares, “This 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 Royal Academy, London Photo: Bengt Oberger via Wikimedia Commons

The 20-day visa means Ai will be able to attend his opening at The Royal Academy, London.
Photo: Courtesy of Bengt Oberger via Wikimedia Commons.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer and and friend of Ai’s told the Guardian, “Under Chinese law Ai’s case ended in the police investigation stage and has not reached the court. The case does not have a court sentence and hence by Chinese standard, Ai doesn’t have a criminal conviction.”

Meanwhile Tibetan activist Jigme Ugen has speculated on Twitter that the artist’s “outrageous” visa denial is connected to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s scheduled state visit to London in October.

Despite being denied a six-month business visa, the artist was granted a twenty-day visa which would allow him to attend the opening of his upcoming show at London’s Royal Academy. A spokesperson for the Home Office told the Guardian, “Mr Ai has been granted a visa for the full duration of his requested dates of travel.”

Earlier this week, the German government granted Ai a visa, sparking rumors that the artist could be planning to move to Berlin.

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