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After 4 Years, Chinese Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei Gets His Passport Back

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei finally got his passport back today, four years after it was seized by government authorities.

Ai made the announcement on Instagram, posting a selfie of him holding his red and gold passport with a simple caption: "Today, I picked up my passport."

The Los Angeles Times reports:

"Andreas Johnsen, director of the 2013 documentary 'Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,' said the news was a shock — but a pleasant one. 'It's extremely great, but it's just sad it took so long,' he said.

"Ai is best known for his postmodern, larger-than-life art installations, including ones that featured bronze zodiac animal heads, bicycle frames fused together and millions of hand-crafted porcelain sunflower seeds spread out on a gallery floor.

"He has also established a reputation as a fierce government critic with a significant social media following. He led a campaign to investigate government corruption in wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when shoddy school construction led to more than 5,000 student deaths."

Ai was detained by authorities in 2011 as he was trying to fly to Hong Kong. Authorities took his passport, kept him in custody for 81 days and eventually fined him $2.4 million for tax evasion.

The New York Times reports:

"He has said the case against him was retaliation for his political activism, including his memorializing the thousands of children who died in schools that collapsed during a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province.

"He said on Wednesday that the authorities had given him no indication of why he had received his passport now. 'I only can say why not? They have promised for the past four years to give it back. Now finally they gave it to me,' he said in a telephone interview. 'They always say it's in the process but I just need to be patient.'

"The confiscation of his passport meant that Mr. Ai was forced to organize his overseas exhibitions remotely, including shows at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and at Alcatraz, the former prison in San Francisco Bay."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.