July 30, 2015 / 10:04 AM / 2 years ago

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Germany, says Britain denied him visa

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei arrives at the airport in Munich, Germany July 30, 2015.Michaela Rehle

MUNICH/BEIJING (Reuters) - Dissident Chinese artist and free speech advocate Ai Weiwei, whose passport was returned last week four years after it was confiscated, arrived in Germany on Thursday to visit his son and said Britain had denied his application for a six-month visa.

Ai, 58, told reporters at Munich airport he was pleased to be able to travel again after authorities in Beijing returned his documents.

"I have no plan now, I just want to meet my son," he said. "He lives in Berlin and he came to pick me up. I'm sorry I don't want to let him wait. I haven't seen him in a year." He said he also planned to see a doctor in Germany.

When asked if he planned to visit London, he said: "Could be, could be if they give me visa."

Earlier on Thursday he said Britain had denied his application for a six-month visa in favor of one with a shorter duration because he had not declared a "criminal conviction".

Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit Britain in October and the move could fuel criticism of Prime Minister David Cameron's government, accused by critics of putting trade before human rights in dealing with China.

Ai has never been charged or convicted of a crime.

In 2011, the Chinese government said Ai remained under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes after he was released on bail. Ai said previously that he had not received a formal notice to explain "suspected economic crimes".

Ai's passport was confiscated after his 81-day secret detention.

In a letter issued by the UK Visas and Immigration Department that Ai posted on Instagram, the department said Ai had not declared that he had "previously received a criminal conviction in China". Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the letter.

In a statement provided by the British Embassy in Beijing, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson denied that the decision to reject Ai's application for a six-month visa was driven by fears he could be in Britain at the same time as the Chinese president.

"Mr Ai has been granted a visa to enable him to travel to the UK for the full travel duration he requested, and we are pleased that he will be able to attend his exhibition at the Royal Academy," it said.

Ai said he was given a visa to travel to Britain from Sept. 9-29 but said he "may not be able to attend the exhibition installation and opening" of a retrospective of his work at

London's Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibition is due to open on Sept. 19, according to the Royal Academy's website.

His non-attendance would likely generate negative headlines about China in Britain ahead of Xi's visit.

"This decision is a denial of Ai Weiwei's rights as an ordinary citizen," Ai said on Instagram.

China's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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