THE CHINESE AUTHORITIES have ordered the internationally acclaimed artist and vocal rights activist Ai WeiWei to pay €1.7 million in alleged back taxes – a move which supporters say is an attempt to silence him.
Ai, who was recently detained without charge for 81 days, says he has been ordered to pay the bill within 15 days. Authorities claim that the taxes are owed by a company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd – which they say he owns, Bloomberg reports.
Ai says he is not the owner but simply works as a designer for the company – and claims the move is an attempt by the government to explain why he was arrested.
The company is owned by Lu Qing, Ai’s wife, who is also the firm’s legal representative, Reuters reports.
Speaking to AFP, Ai outlined the penalties he faced if he did not pay the fine: “The notice said I have 15 days to pay. That’s about one million a day… if you don’t pay they could put you in jail, maybe up to seven years.”
The 54-year-old artist says that he was first ordered to pay 60 million yuan (€6.9 million), then 20 million yuan (€2.3 million), before being given the final figure of 15 million yuan (€1.7 million) after the authorities considered his “abilities” to pay.
In April, the Chinese authorities cracked down on pro-democracy protests taking place across the country – inspired by the Arab Spring demonstrations – arresting and detaining a number of activists.
“During the 81 days, all the police talked about was subversion of state power, so I am very surprised they are avoiding talk about politics, (and now talk) about this tax,” Ai told reporters.
He said he was unsure about how he could challenge the order – as the authorities had seized all the company’s documents in the days following his detention and had not returned them, reports the Guardian.