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Taxes and tactics

November 2, 2011

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been handed a multi-million euro bill for backtaxes and fines, not long after his release from prison. He told Deutsche Welle that he thinks the charges are designed simply to silence him.

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei was detained earlier this year, but later releasedImage: dapd

Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said on Wednesday that the demand for 15 million yuan ($2.4 million, 1.7 million euros) in back taxes and fines leveled against his company by the Chinese government was unreasonable.

"Fifteen million yuan is a great deal of money," Ai told Deutsche Welle. "I ask myself how the authorities can issue such demands without launching and completing the relevant legal proceedings and other such formalities. I don't understand it."

When Ai Weiwei was released from 80 days of detention without charge in June, Chinese authorities said this was on the condition that the artist pay outstanding taxes.

The notice, issued on Tuesday, listed 54-year-old Ai as the "actual controller" of his company, Fake Studio; his wife Lu Qing is listed as the company's legal owner.

Economic charges, political motive?

Under his bail conditions, Ai is not allowed to give interviews to the media or leave Beijing without permission - but he has spoken with foreign news outlets about what he believes is an attempt to silence him.

"My theory is that they have accused me of these supposed economic crimes, in order to solve a political problem," Ai said. "Right at the start of my detention they told me: 'We will destroy your reputation. We will make sure that everyone in the world knows that you are a liar. You are unsavory, because you have slandered this government.'"

A German official expressed concern over Ai's treatment on Tuesday, also calling on Beijing to grant him freedom of speech and movement.

"I am concerned at how the Chinese authorities are treating Ai Weiwei. China sets itself high standards when it comes to developing its own rule of law. It must now show this in practice," said Markus Löning, Berlin's top human rights official.

"The action against Ai Weiwei again gives the impression that political critics are being willfully persecuted," Lönig added.

A sign of weakness?

Ai has spoken in the past about a desire to leave China, telling the German dpa news agency earlier this autumn that he planned to take up a visiting professorship in Berlin.

Nevertheless he told Deutsche Welle that his comments on the Chinese government remain "fairly friendly," saying the government was still playing hardball in a bid to keep him quiet.

"That's not representative of a major power or of a country whose self-confidence is on the up," Ai said. "A state should set an example to society in terms of ethics and integrity, not resort to violence and repression; that's the way for a country to lose its credibility."

Before becoming a prominent figure of Chinese opposition, Ai Weiwei was perhaps best known for his part in designing Beijing's "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium.

Author: Christoph Ricking, Mark Hallam
Editor: Nancy Isenson