Artist and political activist Ai Weiwei has had domestic travel restrictions lifted, following a year of being forced to remain in Beijing. Although this is undoubtedly a small victory for the detained artist, he is still unable to travel internationally because he is suspected of being guilty of other charges including pornography.
According to Weiwei, police have consented to return his passport to him on the condition that he does not attempt to travel abroad. This is most inconvenient for the artist, who has achieved international acclaim and was hoping to travel to Washington D.C. for an art exhibit later this year.
"I feel this is still an illegal practice," he said
. "If I am not allowed to leave the country, I will have to cancel the trips, but I will make some efforts."
After being arrested in 2011 under suspicion of fraud, there was much international protest from people who believe the artist’s detainment was uncalled for and that the arrest was made because of Weiwei’s controversial artworks and his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government, rather than any factual allegations.
Since his arrest, Weiwei has been forced to report to police on a weekly basis, and was ordered to stay away from the internet and not to do interviews with foreign media.
"The string is always there, and I have no sense of security," Ai said
of his semi-newfound freedom. "There's no law to protect me, for there is no check on power in China."
Rights lawyer Tang Jitian believes that the lifting of the restrictions indicates that the police do not have a solid case against Weiwei, and will be unable to charge him with anything official.
Weiwei is just one of many Chinese activists who have found themselves in hot water by the Chinese authorities. Several others have also been detained, put under house arrest or simply disappeared. Aside from tax evasion, the authorities have also laid other charges against the artist, accusing him of distributing online pornography as well as exchanging foreign money illegally.
According to Weiwei, the pornography charge has been made against him due to a naked photo of him and four netizens that was taken two years ago "for fun." The most likely reason that this particular photo has caught the attention of the authorities is because it has been interpreted as a satirical dig at the Chinese Communist Party.
And although only banks are officially allowed to exchange foreign currency, private exchange of foreign currency remains a common practice in China.
"Both are excuses for the police to assign me a crime and restrict my mobility," the artist said