Theresa May intervenes to grant Ai Weiwei full access to Britain

The home secretary, Theresa May, has ordered that the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei should be given a full six-month visa to visit Britain and sent him a written apology after personally intervening in the case.

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Britain has dropped a visa restriction on Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, the government said on Friday, and apologized to him following an outcry by human rights groups and Ai’s supporters.

The letter says that Ai’s application was denied because it is a “matter of public record” that the artist had received a criminal conviction in China, and that he had failed to disclose that on his visa form.

Whether it’s a human rights issue – and Ai has been a constant critic of China’s record on this – it’s going to rumble on as a row.

In 2011 Ai was arrested at Beijing Capital worldwide Airport and held for 81 days without charge or trial, meaning he actually has no official criminal convictions against his name.

A separate Instagram post on Thursday said Ai has explained to British officials he has never been charged with or convicted of a crime, but that British authorities have “refused to admit any misjudgment”.

“The Home Secretary was not consulted over the decision to grant Mr. Ai a one-month visa. This decision is a denial of Ai Weiwei’s rights as an ordinary citizen”, Ai continued, referring to himself.

If the embassy claims that Ai has been economical with the truth in declaring he had no involvement or difficulties with the Chinese authorities, it has misunderstood his case. It means he will not be in the UK when China’s President Xi Jinping makes a state visit in October, prompting speculation that the refusal was politically motivated. Ai will be able to stay in the UK for 20 days in order to attend his show’s opening at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, though he won’t be able to supervise much of the installation. His design firm was later slapped with a $2.4 million tax bill, which he fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts.

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Ai, who often uses his work to draw attention to corruption and injustices in Chinese society, was detained for almost three months in 2011 during a wider crackdown on dissent as the Arab Spring unfolded.

Some observers have asserted that there may be a political motivation behind the limitations placed on Ai's visa