Dissident Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been free to travel since Beijing authorities returned his passport in July 2015. However, Ai was previously banned from foreign travel for four years, after police seized his passport at the Beijing airport during a crackdown on Chinese political activists in 2011. He was detained, allegedly for “economic crimes,” for 81 days. Although Ai is no longer officially under government surveillance, his relationship with Chinese authorities remains precarious. Last October, Ai uncovered several listening devices hidden around his studio and living room. He has since shifted his focus in art and social activism towards Europe’s refugee crisis, traveling to refugee camps in Syria, Turkey, Italy, Israel, and France, and installing art exhibits that bring attention to the crisis.

Case History

Ai Weiwei is an internationally recognized dissident artist and activist, most well-known as the co-designer of the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, and as one of the most prominent and vocal critics of the Chinese government. Ai Weiwei’s art largely focuses on social and political commentary of the Chinese government, and he frequently speaks out on social injustice, the detention of fellow dissidents, and government corruption on his social media platforms.

Despite being the son of Ai Qing, one of China’s most famous and revered poets, Ai Weiwei has been repeatedly harassed by the Chinese authorities. In August 2009, Ai was badly beaten by Chengdu police for attempting to testify in the trial of imprisoned dissident writer Tan Zuoren, with whom Ai Weiwei had worked on an investigation into student casualties of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. On September 14, 2009, Ai Weiwei was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage which is believed to be linked to the police attack, and he underwent emergency brain surgery at a hospital in Munich, Germany. He was put under house arrest in 2010 and later detained by the Chinese government in April 2011 for 81 days, allegedly for “economic crimes.”

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