By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia
BEIJING, China – Chinese artist and critic Ai Weiwei, who is well-known for his frequent condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party, was detained on April 3 after being seized by police at the Beijing airport while attempting to board a plane to Hong Kong. After his arrest, he was taken to a Beijing police “safehouse” on allegations of committing “economic crimes”. Four of his associates were also detained.
Following his arrest, information began to surface that Mr. Ai had been arrested for tax evasion after a company controlled by him, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., was believed to have evaded taxes and destroyed accounting documents. Reportedly, Mr. Ai was released only after he confessed to the crimes and repeatedly assured officials that he would repay the back taxes.
The Wall Street Journal described this case as “…no ordinary tax case but a politically motivated investigation designed to silence an increasingly popular critic”. Mr. Ai was not formally arrested, indicted, charged, convicted or sentenced for any crime before being detained for 80 days.
Prior to his detention, Mr. Ai was known for frequently utilizing Twitter and other public mediums to express his views on the Chinese government. After arriving home; however, Ai Weiwei gave a brief statement to reporters outside of his home explaining that he could not talk about the incident and to understand his inability to comment due to the conditions of his parole. As another requirement of his parole, Mr. Ai is required to remain in Beijing for one year unless he is given special permission from the government to leave and must report to police whenever he is asked.
The release of Mr. Ai has prompted increased internet censorship in an attempt to conceal any information about the popular critics arrest and detention. For example, a strictly censored Chinese blog, Sina Weibo, has banned words with any relation to Mr. Ai such as “release”, “the fat guy” and “AWW”.
While Mr. Ai’s cousin was released on Thursday, the other three associates remain unaccounted for. Mr. Ai is just a single activist in over 130 that have been detained in a government crackdown on dissent that began in February as a reaction to the government’s fear that uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would influence revolution in China. Amnesty International is asking that the Chinese government’s decision to release Ai Weiwei not “diminish the international outcry about other activists detained…”
For more information, please see:
China Digital Times – Ai Weiwei Released on Bail; Xu Zhiyong Reportedly Detained – 24 June 2011
The Independent – Ai Weiwei Cousin Freed but Associates Still Missing – 24 June 2011
CNN – Ai Weiwei’s Release Accentuated by Web Censorship, Terse State-Media – 23 June 2011
NY Times – Now Free, a Chinese Dissident Muzzles Himself – 23 June 2011
Wall Street Journal – China’s Shame Over Ai Weiwei – 23 June 2011
Amnesty International – Chinese Government Attempts to Deflect Criticism With Ai Weiwei Release – 22 June 2011