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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There's another twist in the tale of Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. You might recall, he's the artist, one of the most famous in China, whose criticisms of the government have led to repeated run-ins with authorities and to several detentions. Restrictions on his movements in China were lifted today. But Ai Weiwei says he is still barred from leaving the country. NPR's Louisa Lim met and spoke with him in Beijing this morning.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: There was excitement among Ai's supporters at his studio this morning. He'd just returned from the police station bearing the notice marking the end of strict restrictions placed on him a year ago. These were put in place after he spent 81 days in detention. His company was subsequently charged with tax evasion, he believes in retribution for his activism. Ai Weiwei himself is somewhat nonplussed by the end of his bail term.

AI WEIWEI: I have a sense of ridiculous, because it's like you find something you never lost.

LIM: He's now allowed to leave Beijing, but he's not allowed out of China.

WEIWEI: They didn't return my passport. I just realized that. And they didn't return my computers. You know, because for subversion of state power, they want to try to find every traces. Then they can't find anything, I guess. I mean they owe me to say sorry. But of course they would never do it. It's over, but it's not totally over. You're still not allowed to go abroad.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Chinese activist Ai Weiwei didn't appear in a Beijing court for a hearing on Wednesday...

LIM: A Beijing court yesterday heard Ai Weiwei's challenge to the tax authorities. They're demanding almost $2.5 million in back taxes. Ai was ordered to stay at home. He says the court did not allow his lawyers to read the existing evidence, submit new evidence, or call witnesses. Ai points out the irony of the supposedly public hearing. The defendant wasn't allowed to attend and the public seats, all five of them, were occupied by people paid to be there.

WEIWEI: After three hours, those five people, they completely have no interest in this case. And they ask can they leave, because they don't know it's going to last for so long. And the court tells them, no, you cannot leave, you have to stay here till the case finished and they will all pay extra money for it. So they just take a nap in the court.

LIM: So far, there's been no verdict from the hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Ai Weiwei shot to prominence through his art, his activism, and a new documentary about him. But he spent the past year inside the fishbowl of the Chinese security system. I asked how many people he estimates monitor him.

WEIWEI: At least a hundred, at least, minimum. There's eight people doing a shift, but that's only one aspect. If I go to park, I can see people taking photos through the bush. And, you know, my phone is tapped. If I make a move, I have to announce to the police station. Sometimes different cars follow you.

LIM: And the end of your parole, will that change anything?

WEIWEI: It will not change that much. Maybe they'll be much looser.

LIM: This emphasis on maintaining stability, whatever the cost, Ai believes highlights the government's lack of ideology. And he sees his court case as illustrating its lack of respect for the rule of law.

This inveterate blackjack player knows the deck is loaded against him, but he said he'll keep going.

WEIWEI: We're still trying to fight, because we are fighting it for the dignity.

LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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