Artist Ai Weiwei arrives in Germany as Britain slammed over visa

30th July 2015, Comments 0 comments

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei arrived in Germany Thursday on his first overseas trip since he was arrested nearly four years ago, after Britain denied him a six-month visa because he did not declare a supposed "criminal conviction" on his application.

China's best known contemporary artist received a new passport a week ago after it was taken away following his 81-day detention without charge in 2011 amid a crackdown on government critics.

Ai and human rights groups insist the artist has no convictions, and was never charged with a crime.

The artist arrived on a Lufthansa flight to the southern city of Munich where he was reunited with his six-year-old son at the terminal.

"I haven't seen him for years," a visibly overwhelmed Ai told reporters, after taking a selfie in front of the arrivals board.

The 57-year-old Ai -- who said last week that Germany had granted him a four-year multiple entry visa -- said he would travel to Berlin "in a few days".

"I have to see a doctor here (in Munich), I had my operation here a few years ago and I have several other appointments," he said.

Asked whether he would continue on to London, he said: "It could be. If I get a visa,"

Earlier Thursday, Ai said Britain had denied him a six-month visa and restricted him to a three-week trip because he did not declare a "criminal conviction" in his application.

Britain's decision prompted outrage online and condemnation from rights groups.

Ai posted a letter on Instagram apparently from the visa section of the British Embassy in Beijing saying it was "a matter of public record that you have previously received a criminal conviction in China, and you have not declared this," adding he had "exceptionally" been granted a visa for a 20-day period in September.

Any future application he made should be completed "as accurately as possible", the letter said, warning him that he faced a 10-year ban if he did not comply.

- 'Never charged' -

Ai said in a separate Instagram post he had "never been charged or convicted of a crime".

The artist added he had attempted to clarify the situation with British authorities "but the representatives insisted on the accuracy of their sources and refused to admit any misjudgement."

"This decision is a denial of Ai Weiwei's rights as an ordinary citizen," he added.

The visa he was granted means that Ai could attend a show of his work at London's Royal Academy of Arts in September, when his absence would have generated negative headlines.

But it he would not be in Britain when China's President Xi Jinping pays a high-profile state visit in October.

Maya Wang, China researcher for US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the British government "appears not to have done its homework".

She said his detention and a tax case had been "politically-motivated" by "the Chinese government's worldview, which considers rights activists as criminals worthy of punishment".

Tim Marlow, the artistic director of the Royal Academy in London who is working on the forthcoming exhibition with Ai, suggested the artist may not come to London after all now.

"I think his view would be if the British government are still making the point that it's a matter of public record and that he needs to declare a criminal conviction that never happened, I think his point would be, well fine, I just step back and I don't come to Britain," Marlow told BBC radio.

A company run by his wife and listing him as an employee was fined $2.4 million in 2012 after losing a civil legal battle against tax authorities, proceedings widely seen as a reprisal for Ai's outspoken criticism of the ruling Communist party.

- Britain 'kowtows' -

Prominent Chinese Internet freedom advocate Michael Anti was among many condemning the move, writing on Twitter "Shame for UK Government!"

Britain's Home Office said in a statement that visa applications were considered "on their individual merits and in line with the relevant legislation", adding: "Mr Ai has been granted a visa for the full duration of his requested dates of travel."

Authorities confiscated Ai's passport after his 2011 detention, apparently attempting to limit his international influence, but police returned the document earlier this month.

Britain's governing Conservative party has sought to improve relations with China after its leader David Cameron angered Beijing by meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Since then London has made a number of moves which have bought it back into Beijing's good graces, including joining the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, reportedly against Washington's wishes.

© 2015 AFP

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