On June 28, 2011, it was reported that Ai Weiwei, the internationally acclaimed artist who had been freed on bail a week earlier, had been visited by government tax officials with a demand for over 12 million yuan (c. 1.3 million Euro) in unpaid taxes and fines. Ai’s supporters in China and abroad believe that these heavy fines have been levied in retaliation for his criticism of the government. Ai Weiwei had been arrested in early April 2011 for unspecified “economic crimes.” PEN International continues to monitor Ai Weiwei’s case, and has serious concerns about the continuing restrictions on his right to communicate with others. It also remains alarmed about the overall dire state of freedom of expression in China.

Background Information

Ai Weiwei was arrested on April 3, 2011, on undefined charges of “economic crimes.” His arrest was widely condemned in China and abroad, including by governments and leading figures in the fields of the arts and human rights. He was released on June 22, 2011, on bail. During his imprisonment he was denied access to his family and lawyers, leading to alarm about his well-being. On his release he refused to answer questions, only to say that  he is not allowed to give interviews to the press, or use Twitter or other social media. He is also banned from leaving Beijing. 

On June 28, the Associated Press reported that on the previous day, tax bureau officials came to his home and delivered a notice believed to be related to a bill of around five million yuan (c. Eur600,000) in unpaid taxes and further fines of about seven m yuan (c. Eur900,000), believed to relate to the past ten years. Ai is said to have refused to sign the notice. His mother is quoted as saying that no tax demands of this kind had been sent in the past ten years. Ai’s supporters claim that he is being penalized for his criticism of the Chinese government.

Ai Weiwei was detained at Beijing International Airport on April 3, 2011, while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong, where he had been due to participate in artistic exchange activities. Later that day police raided his home and studio, questioned his wife and eight assistants, and confiscated computers. No news was given about his whereabouts or the reason for his arrest until April 7, 2011, when it was reported by the official Chinese News Agency Xinhua that Ai Weiwei was under investigation for suspected involvement in “economic crimes.” His arrest appears to be part of a widespread crackdown on dissent in which writers, journalists and human rights defenders are among those to have been targeted since mid-February 2011.

Ai Weiwei, aged 53, is an internationally recognized artist who co-designed the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing. He is one of the most prominent critics of China's government, and has commented frequently on social injustice, including the detentions of fellow dissidents and government corruption, on his widely followed Twitter page and blog. In recent years Ai Weiwei has been repeatedly harassed, and in August 2009 was badly beaten by Chengdu police for attempting to testify at the trial of imprisoned dissident writer Tan Zuoren, with whom Ai had worked on an investigation into student casualties of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. On September 14, 2009, Ai was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage which is believed to be linked to the police attack, and he underwent emergency brain surgery at a hospital in Munich, Germany. In January 2011 his Shanghai studio was destroyed by the authorities.

Ai Weiwei's first book, Time and Place, was published by Guangxi Normal University Press in September 2010. The book is a collection of essays on art, architecture and reviews selected from his online publications in his blogs, which have been closed down since his detention. Its complete uncensored version in Chinese will be published in Hong Kong later this year.

Write A Letter

  • Welcoming the release on bail of Ai Weiwei, while expressing concerns that he remains under restriction, including denial of his right to freedom of expression;
  • Asking for assurances that the tax evasion charges against him have not been applied in retaliation for his criticism of the government, concerns that are widely held within China and abroad;
  • Reminding the Chinese authorities of their obligations under Article 35 of the Chinese constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a signatory, and seeking assurances that they are adhering to these international commitments;
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression in China, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the ICCPR.

Send Your Letter To

His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
People's Republic of China

Director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau
FU Zhenghua Juzhang
Beijingshi Gong'anju
9 Dongdajie, Qianmen
Beijingshi 100740
People's Republic of China
Fax: +86 1065242927

Minister of Justice
WU Aiying Buzhang
10 Chaoyangmen Nandajie
Beijingshi 100020
People's Republic of China

Minister of Public Security of the People's Republic of China
MENG Jianzhu
14 Dongchang'anjie
Beijingshi 100741
People's Republic of China

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for China in your country if possible.

Please contact PEN if sending appeals after July 15, 2011: ftw [at] pen.org