Ai Weiwei is in the midst of attempting to strike back at Beijing tax authorities who have arbitrarily imposed upon him a tax evasion penalty worth £1.5 million. But this effort to see justice done is being thwarted by the political corruption of Chinese legal system.
While the courts have agreed to take his case, they have done so on the condition that the artist produce his company’s official seal. Fair enough, one might say; except for the fact that the said company seal has been confiscated by the Chinese police who are now refusing to return it!
We can’t get the seal back’, said Ai Weiwei to the Western press: ‘It’s in the hands of the police. It’s very much a catch-22.’ The seal – a stamp embossed with the company’s name issued by the Chinese government, and compulsorily used on all company official documents – was confiscated by police last year when the Ai Weiwei was mysteriously abducted.
Ai Weiwei’s decision to take the tax authorities to court came after they decided against a public hearing on a reconsideration of the tax penalty in late March. ‘How they handle this relates to issues of China’s rule of law and the safety of its people’, he said; ‘It has very broad implications. If they can’t resolve this issue very fairly and carefully, it will be bring harm to this society’s justice system.’
The accusations of tax evasion against Ai Weiwei are merely the latest developments in a catalogue of government harassment. In 2011 Ai was detained for nearly three months during a general crackdown on dissent in china. These actions against Ai Weiwei have been interpreted by activists as government punishment for his often-outspoken criticism of the Chinese regime.
His supporters were quick to get behind him on the ‘tax evasion’ charge, with the artist having reportedly received over 5.3 million yuan ($840,000) from almost 20,000 sympathetic donors, in a single week! The donations ended up totalling nearly 8.7 million yuan ($1.4 million), which was used to pay a guarantee to the tax bureau. He was also given a symbolic 100 euro ($137) donation from the German government’s human rights commissioner.
The donation campaign — which involved a variety of unorthodox methods, from smuggling money in paper airplanes, and even wrapping bills around fruit thrown over the fence into his property – has, of course, been condemned as illegal by a state-run newspaper, Global Times. And the support being shown for Ai Weiwei on this occasion is unusual due to fears of the government retribution that be prompted by supporting high-profile dissidents.
Ai Weiwei sees this development as a very good sign for the future, explaining that ‘It shows that in the Internet age, society will have its own judgment and its own values’, and applauds the ‘group of people who want to express their views [and] are using their money to cast their votes’: ‘People are using these methods to re-examine the accusation that I evaded taxes’, he added.
Responding to state criticism that, as one of the world’s most successful artists, he is hardly needs to borrow money, Ai Weiwei commented, ‘Yes, I am very wealthy, but this is a separate issue’; ‘I will repay every cent of the loans. One person’s innocence is tied together to a country’s innocence. I’m not doing this to profit myself.’ This fact is evident in the messages of support that companied many of the donations, with one reading, ‘The whole family has been mobilized, everyone will be creditors’.
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