A Thinly-Veiled Political Stunt: the Return of Ai Wei Wei’s Passport in the Midst of a Crackdown

Famed Chinese artist and political critic Ai Weiwei had his passport returned to him by the Chinese government after it was confiscated four years ago.  Ai had his passport confiscated by the Chinese government in 2011 while attempting to travel to Hong Kong amidst a roundup of political activists. In addition to the confiscation, Ai was detained for 81 days in Beijing’s International Airport.

Known for his support of human rights through art, Ai has faced persecution throughout most of his life. Officially, the passport incident was a product of the Chinese government’s investigation of Ai for tax evasion. Never officially charged with tax evasion, Ai suffered 81 days of unjust detention.

The return of Ai’s passport comes immediately after the questioning, detention, and disappearance of more than two hundred human rights lawyers in China. The Laogai Research Foundation is excited Ai has regained his freedom to travel.  We also want to remind the international community, however, that the return of Ai’s passport is almost certainly a political stunt intended to deflect criticism from the much broader issue facing the Chinese activist community: the unjust crackdown on human rights lawyers. 

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Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship.