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Ai Weiwei blasts tax evasion charge

Ai Weiwei has vowed to fight charges of tax evasion "to the death," after Chinese officials ordered the outspoken artist and activist to pay $2.4 million in back taxes in less than two weeks.
Activist artist Ai Weiwei, seen outside his Beijing home in June, vows to fight the tax evasion charges against him. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Ai Weiwei has vowed to fight charges of tax evasion "to the death," after Chinese officials ordered the outspoken artist and activist to pay $2.4 million in back taxes in less than two weeks.

"Will a person like Ai Weiwei surrender? In my dictionary, there's no such word surrender," the 54-year-old contemporary artist told Reuters on Wednesday. Ai spoke from his home studio in Beijing, where he was accompanied by lawyers, tax experts and his wife.

"I'm not afraid of them. I think it's improper that a country is engaging in shameless activities."

Chinese authorities arrested Ai at Beijing's airport in April and detained him for 81 days amid a wider crackdown on dissidents, lawyers and critics of the government. The government claimed he was taken into custody over economic crimes, including dodging taxes and destroying documents. Though freed after an international outcry, he was initially ordered to pay $1.85 million in back taxes and fines.

Ai told Reuters he has not been shown evidence of the alleged tax evasion and said he has requested an administrative review of the situation. "I will fight them to the death," he said.

The artist added that he has been forced to use his elderly mother's house as collateral, because he does not have the money to pay the alleged back taxes and fines within the approximately two-week time period he was given.

Ai is among China's best known contemporary artists, with his photos, installations, sculptures and other artwork shown in top venues in London, New York and Berlin. Also an avid blogger and filmmaker, he has also been a thorn in the side of China's government as a critic of its practices.

In October, influential British magazine Art Review chose Ai to top the list in its annual tally of the most powerful art world figures of 2011.

"Ai's power and influence derive from the fact that his work and his words have become catalysts for international political debates that affect every nation on the planet: freedom of expression, nationalism, economic power, the internet, the rights of the human being," the magazine said.

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