Chinese activist Ai Weiwei is receiving some enviable help after being slapped with a huge tax bill by the authorities – thousands of people have been sending him money to help him pay.
Last week, Chinese authorities announced that the artist, who was detained earlier this year under mysterious circumstances while boarding a plane for Hong Kong, owed $2.4 million in back taxes and penalties. Ai has insisted he has done nothing wrong, and many view the huge bill as aimed at putting further pressure on Ai to keep quiet following his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights record.
Reports suggest that as many as 20,000 people may have contributed more than half a million dollars for Ai, who was detained for more than two months earlier this year in a secret location.
Among the conditions of Ai’s release on June 22 were that he wouldn’t speak to foreign media and wouldn’t use social networking sites. However, within six weeks he had broken the latter agreement, signing up for a Google+ account, before taking to Twitter again. And he followed this up be penning a scathing piece for Newsweek in August that made international headlines by likening Beijing to a prison, and the poor that arrive there every day looking for work its resident ‘slaves.’
‘Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing’s slaves,’ he wrote. ‘They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts – and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result.’
As the New York Times noted yesterday, Ai has become increasingly vocal over his own treatment since the amount of his fine was made public on Tuesday, and he has described the fine as blatant retribution for his criticism of the ruling Communist Party.
“The donations began pouring in on Thursday, many of them delivered electronically and accompanied by politically tinged comments,” the Times reports, quoting one donor, a doctor, as stating: “You helped them to design the Bird’s Nest, but they sent you into a bird cage…You charged them fees, but now they fine you more than hundreds of times that in blood and sweat.”
The state-run Global Times has, for its part, responded by suggesting that the donations flooding could be illegal.
“Ai said he would repay everyone several times the amount borrowed after he won the case. He claimed that more than 10,000 people quickly responded…(But) some experts have pointed out this could be an example of illegal fund-raising. Since he's borrowing from the public, it at least looks like illegal fund-raising,” the paper reported.
“The donations will not change the public's attitude toward Ai's case, either. It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China's total population. Ai's political preference along with his supporters’ cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.”