The artist Ai Weiwei has been ordered to pay a fine of 1.6 million euros. To show their solidarity, people in China and elsewhere have made donations that have added up to a six-figure sum in just three days.
Liu Yanping is a busy woman these days. As Ai Weiwei's personal assistant she has been coordinating all the messages and donations that have been flooding in for the artist and regime critic.
Last Wednesday, Chinese tax authorities ordered him to pay a fine of 15 million yuan (1.6 million euros, $2.2 million). On Friday, thousands of people started donating money in a show of solidarity, raising a tidy sum in the process.
"Today is the third day and there's been a substantial increase in the amount of money we received. We checked it around 1 p.m. today and we had 5,290,000 yuan (around 610,000 euros)," Liu said, adding that people donated from all over the world, but that the lion's share had come from mainland China.
State newspaper warning
"No one is being forced to donate and they all have their own reasons to do so. People want a chance to voice their opinions," Ai said.
The show of support could, however, have consequences. The state-owned newspaper Global Times warned in a lead article that the artist could be sued for collecting donations illegally.
But Ai is unfazed by the threat. He said the Global Times had the state monopoly on insulting his honor. "In reality, neither they nor I need this charge. My crime is free speech and the protection of civil rights," he said. To look for any other reasons for an indictment was simply daft, the artist emphasized.
Strengthening civil society?
Famous Chinese activists were also among those who donated to Ai. A professor from the Sun-Yatsen University in Guangzhou gave 400,000 yuan, around 46,000 euros. Human rights activist Hu Jia, who had also been released from prison this year, donated 1,000 yuan. Ai Wei Wei said he will pay back the donations and that it was more about moral support than money.
"It's a sign of hope, it shows that people have a deep-seated desire to revolt against an authoritarian regime," Yin said, adding that Ai was a symbol of the opposition to the methods of the Communist Party and of the fight against political prosecution. Yin is sure that this latest show of solidarity is "a huge step for China."
At the beginning of April, the Chinese authorities arrested Ai Weiwei at the airport in Beijing. Ai was in prison for 81 days. At first, it was unclear why he was arrested and where he was.
It was only after his arrest that his studio was searched and his computer taken away. A short time later, Ai was accused of withholding millions in taxes.
The authorities claim that he confessed, but Ai denies the charges as well as the confession. He has been under house arrest since he was released at the end of June.
Authors: Christoph Ricking, Su Yutong / ng
Editor: Andreas Illmer