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CHINA: Artist Ai Weiwei faces enormous fines

Tuesday 28 June 2011 - 1:00am

On 28 June 2011, it was reported that Ai Weiwei, the internationally acclaimed artist who had been freed on bail a week earlier, had been visited by government tax officials with a demand for over 12 m yuan (c. 1.3 m Euro) in unpaid taxes and fines. Ai's supporters in China and abroad believe that these heavy fines have been levied in retaliation for his criticism of the government. Ai Weiwei had been arrested in early April 2011 on for unspecified "economic crimes". PEN International continues to monitor Ai Weiwei's case, and has serious concerns about the continuing restrictions on his right to communicate with others. It also remains alarmed about the overall dire state of freedom of expression in China.
Ai Weiwei was arrested on 3 April 2011 on undefined charges of "economic crimes". His arrest was widely condemned in China and abroad, including by governments and leading figures in the fields of the arts and human rights. He was released on 22 June 2011 on bail. During his imprisonment he was denied access to his family and lawyers, leading to alarm about his well-being. On his release he refused to answer questions, only to say that he is not allowed to give interviews to the press, or use Twitter or other social media. He is also banned from leaving Beijing.

On 28 June, the Associated Press reported that on the previous day, tax bureau officials came to his home and delivered a notice believed to be related to a bill of around 5m yuan (c. Eur 600,000) in unpaid taxes and further fines of about 7m yuan (c. Eur 900,000), believed to relate to the past ten years. Ai is said to have refused to sign the notice. His mother is quoted as saying no tax demands of this kind had been sent in the past ten years. Ai's supporters claim that he is being penalised for his criticism of the Chinese government. For more read:

Ai Weiwei was detained at Beijing International Airport on 3 April 2011 while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong, where he had been due to participate in artistic exchange activities. Later that day police raided his home and studio, questioned his wife and eight assistants, and confiscated computers. No news was given about his whereabouts or the reason for his arrest until 7 April 2011, when it was reported by the official Chinese News Agency Xinhua that Ai Weiwei was under investigation for suspected involvement in ‘economic crimes'. His arrest appears to be part of a widespread crackdown on dissent in which writers, journalists and human rights defenders are amongst those to have been targeted since mid-February 2011 (see previous alerts for details).

Ai Weiwei, aged 53, is an internationally recognized artist who co-designed the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing. He is one of the most prominent of China's government critics, and has commented frequently on social injustice, including the detentions of fellow dissidents and government corruption, on his widely followed Twitter page and blog. In recent years Ai Weiwei has been repeatedly harassed, and in August 2009 was badly beaten by Chengdu police for attempting to testify in the trial of imprisoned dissident writer Tan Zuren, with whom Ai had worked on an investigation into student casualties of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. On 14 September 2009, Ai was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage which is believed to be linked to the police attack, and he underwent emergency brain surgery at a hospital in Munich, Germany. In January 2011 his Shanghai studio was destroyed by the authorities.

Ai Weiwei's first book, Time and Place, was published by Guangxi Normal University Press in September 2010. The book is a collection of essays on art, architecture and reviews selected from his online publications in his blogs, which have been closed down since his detention. Its complete uncensored version in Chinese will be published in Hong Kong later this year.