Human rights organisations and NGOs have questioned British authorities’ decision not to grant the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei a six-month business visa.
Amnesty International said they would not rule out an administrative error in Ai’s case, but added that there was a wider problem with the way Chinese human rights activists are treated.
James Savage, one of the directors at Amnesty International’s UK office said: “The Chinese authorities routinely charge and convict human rights defenders with spurious, politically motivated criminal offences, for precisely the reasons this case illustrates, to tarnish an individual’s reputation and make it difficult for them to travel freely and raise their concerns internationally.”
“We wouldn’t want to see the UK government in any way, albeit unintentionally, playing into the hands of states around the world who are increasingly misusing laws to criminalise human rights defenders.”
The news comes after the dissident artist confirmed on Thursday morning that his request for a six-month business visa to the UK was denied on the grounds that he failed to declare that he had a previous criminal conviction on his application form. He was instead given a 20-day entry visa from September 9-29 only.
Ai will visit the UK to attend the opening of his new installation at the Royal Academy of Arts, which is due to open from September 19 to December 13.
A letter addressed to Ai said that an exception was granted in his case, but warned that any future visa applications “must be completed as accurately as possible,” and that failure to do this could incur a a 10-year ban from entering the UK.
Ai maintained that he “has never been charged or convicted of a crime, attempted to clarify this claim with the UK Visas and Immigration Department and the British Embassy in Beijing over several telephone conversations, but the representatives insisted on the accuracy of their sources and refused to admit any misjudgment.”
The decision not to grant Ai his requested visa lead some to speculate that President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the UK in October had a role to play. The UK government under Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to repair Sino-UK relations after Cameron met the Dalai Lama in 2012.
Wen Yunchao, a prominent Chinese blogger and human rights activist based in the US, told HKFP it was reasonable to speculate that President Xi’s visit had a role to play.
Wen said he knew of another instance where someone had his application for a visa to enter the US blocked because of his involvement because of “repeated criminal behaviour.” Wen said the person in question was in fact falsely incriminated by the local authorities because he was “exercising his legitimate political rights.”
“However this case and the Ai Weiwei case are different, because Ai Weiwei was not even convicted.”
A statement from the UK Home Office said: “Reports that Mr Ai has been refused a visa are incorrect. He has been granted a visa to enable him to travel to the UK for the full duration of the stay he requested.”
The Home Office however did not respond to requests from HKFP to clarify what criminal charges they referred to when deciding to refuse to grant Ai a six-month business visa.