REPORTING FROM BEIJING— In a possible softening of their stance toward a leading dissident, Chinese authorities are allowing artist Ai Weiwei to appeal a fine for tax evasion, Ai’s representatives said on Friday.
"Because this is a New Year, 2012, I think the government wants to show it is trustworthy and responsible and that it is following legal procedure," said lawyer Pu Zhiqiang in a telephone interview.
Fake Cultural Development Ltd., the company founded by Ai but registered under his wife’s name, received notice on Wednesday that their appeal on the fine had been accepted, according to Ai’s lawyers. The attorneys had submitted a lengthy appeal last month, arguing that police had behaved improperly in detaining him for tax evasion.
The provocative artist was arrested in April at the Beijing airport and held without formal charges for 81 days, setting off international protests from New York to London.
Following his release, Ai was handed a bill for $2.4 million in back taxes and fines.
Ai’s supporters believe the prosecution is a payback for his acerbic criticism of the Chinese Communist Party both in his artwork and blog. After working on the “Bird’s Nest” stadium that was the centerpiece of the 2008 summer Olympics, Ai plunged into a campaign to achieve recognition for thousands of children whose shoddily built schools collapsed during the a massive earthquake in Sichuan province.
More than 30,000 supporters have chipped in to help Ai raise money to pay off the taxes, with some enterprising fans lofting bills shaped as paper airplanes over the walls of his compound in northeastern Beijing.
Pu said Friday that Ai’s company is willing to pay taxes if they are owed. “We want to make sure the procedure is conducted according to the law and that there is justice,’’ he said. He added, however, that “we can’t be overly optimistic about the outcome.”
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei opens his jacket to reveal a shirt bearing his portrait as he walks into the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau in Beijing in November. Credit: Andy Wong / Associated Press