On April 3rd, 2011 the Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei was detained at the Beijing airport. Before he was able to board a flight to Hong Kong he was surrounded and arrested by a large contingent of police. Ai, always a bit subversive, drew their attention with a call for a Chinese Spring. Given the results of Arab Spring, his protest rhetoric didn’t sit well with Chinese authorities.
After his arrest, a much larger police squadron searched his Beijing studio for evidence to support his incarceration. They removed laptops and hard drives but not much more than that. Authorities had to be disappointed when they couldn’t find evidence to support the crime they were sure Ai Weiwei had committed. So they took a page out of Eliot Ness’s playbook: they charged him with tax evasion.
Ai Weiwei spent a brutal two and one-half months in police custody before he was released. During that time, a guard was never more than 30 inches away. As Ai showered, shit and shaved, a guard sat right beside him. It was, Ai said, a form of mental torture.
Today Chinese officials announced they would review Ai Weiwei’s multi-million dollar fine for tax evasion. In order to secure his June 22nd release, Ai agreed to pay 2.4 million dollars in back taxes and fines for evasion. Punishment for tax evasion is rare in China. The penalty was widely regarded as punishment for subversion.
The penalty prompted thousands of his supporters to make small donations to help pay the fine. People folded bills in airplanes and flung them over his gate. Some wrapped them around fruit and did the same. To stay on the right side of authorities, Ai said he would treat those donations as loans that he planned to repay.
Chinese authorities say the review will take about two months. Ai said he hoped it would be done earnestly and transparently. “How they handle this relates to issues of China’s rule of law and the safety of its people,” Ai 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.”