Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist whose arrest has prompted an international outcry, is being charged with evading “huge amounts” of taxes, Chinese state media reported late Friday.
The brief dispatch on the New China News Agency was the first official disclosure of the charges being
leveled against the 54-year-old artist, who was arrested without warning at Beijing’s international airport April 3.
The report also said that his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., had “intentionally destroyed accounting records” and committed other criminal acts.
China’s arrest of one of its most acclaimed cultural figures, an artist whose work is on display in New York and London, has led to demonstrations around the world.
Friday’s announcement of tax evasion charges, coming almost seven weeks after his arrest, is unlikely to satisfy critics who say he was treated without due process of law.
Chinese authorities did not disclose that Ai was arrested until four days after he disappeared at the airport, and he was not permitted any visitors until Sunday, when his wife, Lu Qing, was able to see him.
Friday’s news report said Ai had been “legally placed under supervised residence” and that “authorities have protected his rights to family visits.”
The news agency’s report appeared after the close of the business day Friday
and was quoted by a Hong Kong news agency, Wenweipo.
But the New China News Agency later removed the story from its news wire.
“We worry a lot about what the government will do with him because they have never notified us of the charges against him,” his mother, Gao Ying, said in an interview last month.
Liu Xiaoyuan, one of Ai’s close friends and a lawyer who also was recently arrested and released, wrote on his blog Saturday morning in a cautious statement that the charges seemed designed to justify Ai’s arrest and “restrict his personal freedom.”
Ai is the most prominent of dozens of artists, writers, lawyers, bloggers and activists swept up by Chinese authorities in recent months in a crackdown that many say is the most severe since the reaction to the 1989 student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square.