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Ai Weiwei
Credit: By Hafenbar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Theresa May intervenes in Ai Weiwei visa row

Chinese artist and critic of the country’s ruling Communist party Ai Weiwei has had the dates of his visa for travel to the UK extended following the intervention of the Home Secretary Theresa May.

Ai had originally been granted only a 20-day visa instead of the usual six-month business one after the UK Visas & Immigration Office accused him of having failed to declare a previous criminal conviction which would have barred him from entering the country. This is despite the fact that Ai, who recently had his passport returned to him by the Chinese authorities, was never actually convicted of any offence in China despite his detention.

A letter from the UK Visas & Immigration Office, dated the 29th July and posted by Ai on his Instagram account, said: “It is a matter of public record that you have previously received a criminal conviction in China, and you have not declared this. …any future application you submit must be completed as accurately as possible, otherwise there is a risk that future applications may be refused and a 10 year ban applied…” Today, a spokesperson for the Home Office said that a letter had been sent to Ai “apologising for the inconvenience caused” by the initial restrictions.

The original visa entitled Ai to a period of just 20 days in the UK in September but suspicions were raised by some when it was found that this would mean him missing October’s state visit to the UK by China’s President Xi Jinping. This was seen by some as an attempt by the UK to curry favour with China rather than the administrative error it might well have been. Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, said, “The British government has said repeatedly in recent months that freedom of speech and expression are key British values. The Home Office needs to show this in deeds, not just words.” Two Labour members of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee also condemned the decision.

The whole saga follows attempts in recent years by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne’s to improve relations with China following a 2012 meeting of the former with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in 2012. Osborne has also signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is seen as a rival to the US-dominated World Bank

Daniel Grummitt

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