Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had his passport returned by Chinese officials on Wednesday, four years after he was detained for "economic crimes."
In 2011, Ai Weiwei, who is also a political activist, was arrested by Chinese authorities as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong. For the next three months, the world-renowned artist was kept in a tiny cell under the watch of guards, in conditions he later described as "a kind of mental torture."
On the day of his release, 81 days after being detained, Chinese state media, quoting the Beijing police department, reported that Ai had been freed because "of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from."
The report went on to say that Ai had originally been arrested for evading "a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents."
Among Ai's most famous works is Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium. The artist is also a high-profile figure among a group of activists and dissidents who have grown increasingly vocal over the government's human-rights record. Chinese officials, however, have always maintained Ai's arrest had nothing to do with politics.
But even after his release Ai continued to be closely monitored by the authorities. For the last few years the artist has been unable to leave Beijing, in what amounts to what in China is called a "modified house arrest."
In spite of the restrictions placed on him, Ai continued to produce work widely acclaimed internationally. Earlier this year he held a huge exhibition in Alcatraz prison that he coordinated and organized from his studio back in Beijing. In 2014, he staged another widely acclaimed exhibition in the U.K., in the massive home of the Duke of Marlborough.
Ai's first foreign trip in years is expected to be to Germany, where his 6-year-old son is currently living.