Dissident Ai Weiwei Says He Is Barred From Leaving China The 54-year-old artist says officials have lifted the strict bail conditions imposed after his release from detention last year. But he says he is not allowed to leave China and that he was prevented from attending a hearing this week on his tax evasion case.

Dissident Ai Weiwei Says He Is Barred From Leaving China

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/155481606/155481358" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


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.


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.


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.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.