JISHOU, HUNAN — Take this news with a grain of salt, since it comes from official sources via The AP. Dissident artist Ai WeiWei, who has been detained for the last two weeks, has been charged with tax evasion, destroying evidence and bigamy.
No figures were given regarding how much tax Ai owes (if any), and his family has denied the charges, anyway.
“He has made the government unhappy by speaking up for ordinary people,” Ai’s sister Gao Ge told The Associated Press. “Now the government wants to get him back.”
Ai has been openly critical of government officials, challenging them through China’s own legal system to uphold constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and equal protection under the law. He was a public supporter of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving a 11-year sentence in China for “inciting subversion of state power.” (As in co-authoring Charter ’08, a call for more democracy in China. Very subversive. Yeah.)
The government newspaper Wen Wei Po, which is published in Hong Kong, has been smearing Ai as part of the government’s efforts to discredit him. In addition to the tax evasion charge, he is being held for allegedly destroying papers about his taxes, for bigamy and for spreading pornography over the Internet.
Ai is married, but has a child from a previous relationship. Everybody in his family is cool with it, and the whole situation is public knowledge. The New Yorker‘s readers even know about it. As for the porn, well, he’s an artist. According to The AP, Ai photographed himself in the nude with a stuffed animal covering his privates. Considering Ai’s portly physique, the photo is more art than porn, but maybe China’s politicos get off on that sort of thing.
(Incidentally, the stuffed animal was a “grass mud horse,” a mythical llama-like creature invented by Chinese Web users to tweak the noses of the national Internet censors. The Chinese words for “grass mud horse” sound very much like “go f*** your mother.”)
Last year, one of Ai’s studios outside Shanghai was razed by government-backed demolition crews. Authorities also preventing him — and Liu’s other friends and family — from leaving China to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. They picked Ai up at the Hong Kong airport earlier this month, as he was getting ready to leave the country. Ai has a show at the Tate Modern Art gallery in London now.
Hopefully, Ai will be released, but I’m not holding my breath. His visibility works for and against him. The government might want to use him as an example to discourage other lesser known “troublemakers” from being too outspoken.