Ai Weiwei Is Free, But Not Free To Travel or Tweet

06/24/2011 12:51 PM |

(REUTERS/David Gray)

  • (REUTERS/David Gray)

On Wednesday Chinese dissident artist-activist Ai Weiwei was released after being held for 80 days without ever being formally charged, but having allegedly “confessed to tax evasion and destroying documents.” Though unclear at first, the terms of his release have gradually become known: he cannot leave Beijing for a year (so won’t attend next week’s opening of his photography exhibition at Asia Society, nor see his “Zodiac Heads” sculptures at the Pulitzer Fountain), and he cannot use Twitter.

So what is his status, exactly? Barbara Pollack explains in an Artnet article:

The Chinese term for Ai Weiwei’s status is “guobao houshen,” literally meaning “obtaining a guarantee pending trial.” […] It allows the Chinese government to save face and retain control over the artist, while he remains free and unindicted for the next year. Ai Weiwei will have to pay back taxes and perhaps pay a fine—his family has maintained his innocence—but he will probably avoid a prison sentence.

Reuters adds that Ai can’t give interviews, use Twitter or leave Beijing during the next twelve months:

Ai has freedom of movement within Beijing, but before he “goes out, he needs to report his whereabouts to them” for a year, the source said, but declined to elaborate who Ai needs to report to.

All of which is deplorable—as LEAP editor Phil Tinari tells Pollack, “The past 18 months have set China back 20 years”—and (not really at all) eerily reminiscent of the legal status of another international art star: Lindsay Lohan. Yes, Lindsay Lohan and Ai Weiwei have officially been mentioned in the same sentence.

Artists under stringent government surveillance.

  • Artists under stringent government surveillance.