Beijing: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Monday that thousands of supporters have donated more than $550,000 to help him pay a government tax bill, a show of support and a form of protest that a state-run newspaper warned could be illegal.
More than 16,000 people have sent about 3.5 million yuan ($550,000) to Ai since he announced a week ago that the Beijing tax bureau was demanding that he pay $2.4 million in back taxes and fines, the artist told The Associated Press.
Ai, who was detained by authorities for nearly three months earlier this year, said he was treating the money as loans that he would repay.
"This shows that a group of people who want to express their views are using their money to cast their votes," Ai said. "It shows that in the Internet age, society will have its own judgment and its own values. People are using these methods to re-examine the accusation that I evaded taxes."
Liu Yanping, a volunteer at Ai`s studio, said supporters have wired money to a bank account and thrown money over the gate of the studio in envelopes or flown them over in the form of paper airplanes.
Ai was detained secretly without charges for 81 days this year, sparking an international outcry among artists, politicians, activists and Western leaders who called it a sign of China`s deteriorating human rights situation. Police also raided his studio and confiscated account books.
His family and supporters have said he is being punished for speaking out against the country`s Communist leadership and social problems. Activists have called the government`s tax evasion claims a false pretense for Ai`s detention.
In a commentary Monday, the Global Times cited unnamed experts as saying Ai could be suspected of "illegal fundraising." It also said the movement did not represent the larger Chinese population.
"It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China`s total population," it said. "Ai`s political preference along with his supporters` cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances."