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Chinese defy The Wall, help dissident artist

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said today that supporters had travelled thousands of kilometres to his Beijing studio to express their support and donate money towards a huge tax bill he has to pay. In pics

world Updated: Nov 09, 2011 16:56 IST
Beijing studio

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said on Wednesday that supporters had travelled thousands of kilometres to his Beijing studio to express their support and donate money towards a huge tax bill he has to pay.

The drive to donate to Ai, who disappeared into police custody for 81 days earlier this year and was ordered to pay a 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) bill after his release, began Friday and has gathered momentum.

The 54-year-old needs to pay the bill by Tuesday, and his studio has been besieged by supporters from morning until evening, some coming from as far as Hainan island in the south, 3,000 kilometres (1,860 miles) away, he said.

"People have come from Hebei (north China), Hainan and Fujian (southeast) -- all kinds of people from students to businessmen. They want to show their solidarity," Ai told AFP.

Ai was charged with tax evasion on his release from detention in June, but he denies any wrongdoing and says authorities are trying to silence his vocal rights activism by accusing him of the crime.

The popular artist was detained in April at the same time as scores of activists were rounded up amid anonymous calls on the Internet for street protests in China similar to those that toppled governments in the Arab world.

Since Friday, supporters have been sending Ai money through Internet and bank transfers, while some have even resorted to throwing cash over the walls into his courtyard home.

Total donations have now reached 6.25 million yuan, Liu Yanping, who works with Ai, told AFP, adding support for the artist showed no sign of abating.

"We normally open the office at 9 in the morning, but there are already people here at eight until 10 in the evening," she said.

Liu posted a photo of Ai speaking to six petitioners from Hebei, which neighbours Beijing, on her Twitter account.

The artist said those that did not have much money only gave one yuan.

"They want to tell authorities they are there for support, not for money," he said.

"I feel very surprised, because people say the Chinese never really come together, but in a case like this, where I'm supposed to be someone who violates the law, there is lots of support."

Ai said his mother planned to mortgage her house to help him foot the bill, adding he would be able to pay by next Tuesday.

The state-run Global Times newspaper suggested Monday in an editorial that experts could charge Ai with "illegal fundraising" for accepting contributions for the tax bill.

Ai, whose artworks have sold worldwide -- some reportedly for hundreds of thousands of dollars -- acknowledged in earlier comments that he does not need the financial support.

"What I need is the ethical support of everybody. I don't need the money," he said.

He has vowed to pay back the money to his donors, some of whom are prominent activists.

Ai's activism has previously incensed the government. He has organised independent investigations into the collapse of schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and into a 2010 fire at a Shanghai high-rise that killed dozens.

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