Donations to pay Ai's tax bill reach 4.7m yuan
Dissident artist Ai Weiwei says the overwhelming response from supporters keen to help him foot a 15 million yuan (HK$18.3 million) tax bill is a vote of defiance in the face of government persecution.
'They're saying ... this is our ticket to vote, this is the only chance we have to express our feelings ... [they're doing this] to express their own opinions,' Ai said yesterday.
Ai, who was detained for 81 days without charge earlier this year, sees the heavy tax penalty as retaliation by the authorities for his relentless criticism of the Communist Party.
The 54-year-old artist said he was 'very, very touched' by the enthusiasm shown by nearly 17,600 supporters who had donated 4.7 million yuan since he announced a week ago that the Beijing tax bureau was demanding that Beijing Fake Cultural Development, Ai's company, pay 15 million yuan in back taxes and fines.
'I'm more than touched - I feel the world is beautiful and our young people are full of imagination, and there is solidarity in people's hearts,' Ai said, his excitement palpable over the phone. The donations were a symbolic gesture of 'the people's power', he added. Ai said he was treating the donations as loans and promised his creditors that he would repay 'every penny'.
'I'll try not to touch this money ... and I'll return [it] as quickly as possible,' he said. 'But I'm happy to see I'm not fighting alone.'
Ai said he would try to use his own money to pay the first instalment of the fines, between eight and nine million yuan, by the November 16 deadline. He added he was confident he would be able to pay the rest of the outstanding sum.
Those who wished to support him could send money through the post office, to a bank account, or through third-party online payment platforms such as PayPal. Ai's assistant Liu Yanping said on Twitter that some supporters had thrown money over the studio's gate in the form of paper planes.
Ai's detention sparked an international outcry, with foreign governments and rights groups citing his case as evidence of the mainland's worsening human rights situation.
Ai said yesterday he was particularly heartened because his supporters' show of solidarity demonstrated that the official media's attempt to portray him as a man of questionable character had not succeeded.
The state-run Global Times newspaper warned in a commentary yesterday, quoting unnamed experts, that Ai could be engaging in 'illegal fundraising' by accepting donations to pay his tax bill.
Ai said the accusation was groundless and that he was not afraid of the authorities. He added that if they wanted to jail him again they would not need another excuse.
'If people try to give me money, and I say I'll return it to you, that's not fundraising,' he said. 'They always make this kind of smoke, but I'm not scared. I really don't care if they just put me in jail ... I'm an artist, I'm fighting for the freedom of expression and this is definitely the freedom of expression.'
Liu Xiaoyuan , a rights lawyer, said the criminal charge of illegal fundraising was aimed at eliminating underground money lending.
He said the acceptance of donations for the purpose of paying government tax bills, without offering interest in return, could not be regarded as illegal fundraising.
Writing on his Google plus account, Ai said that he would not pay any interest on the loans.
Ai, the co-designer of the iconic 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the son of the late poet Ai Qing , said he felt 'shocked, saddened and helpless' when he received the tax notifications last week.