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Hong Kong Media: Ai Weiwei Confessed to Tax Charges Under Torture [UPDATE 2]

by Kyle Chayka on April 22, 2011

Ai Weiwei with Chinese police (image via pbs.org)

Though unconfirmed in other outlets, Hong Kong news channel and media organization RTHK is reporting that Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has confessed to tax charges under torture. The original article came from a reporter claiming to work for Xinhua, the state-run media mouthpiece of the Chinese government.

We first saw the news through a tweet from Free Ai Weiwei (@freeaiww):

The report comes via Hong Kong media company RTHK, which has television and web presences, but it seems that the tip came from an article in the Human Rights in China Bi-Weekly Journal. RTHK’s article can be found on their site, and is quoted in full below:

Ai Weiwei ‘pleads guilty to tax charges’

22-04-2011

The Human Rights in China Bi-weekly Journal says artist and political activist Ai Weiwei has pleaded guilty to charges related to tax. An article – written by a reporter claiming to work for Xinhua – says Mr Ai had reluctantly admitted to the crime after being tortured by Police. Mr Ai was taken away by police at Beijing airport more than two weeks ago and his whereabouts have been unknown since. His sister, Gao Ge, told RTHK that she would rather her younger brother agreed to a conviction rather than undergo more torture. But she said the family had not yet heard any thing from the authorities on the matter.

While this story is totally believable, torture has been an accepted tactic for the government previously reported by Chinese dissidents, I’m taking it with a grain of salt due to the semi-mysterious secondary source of the human rights journal. As the state mouthpiece, Xinhua would never report that Ai was tortured; they would, however, publicize that the artist confessed to tax charges. Could the Xinhua reporter have had access to inside information, and then chosen to release it? That would be a dangerous move, but not impossible.

The first confirmed word that Ai has confessed to a crime would likely come from a state media outlet. Outside of that, we really have no way of knowing exactly what’s going on. The artist is being charged with economic crimes, that much is true, but we still don’t know where the artist is, what his specific charges are or what the government’s plans are. Ai’s detention is illegal by Chinese law, but that clearly doesn’t bother the government.

Previously, Ai was accosted by police as a result of his investigation into Sichuan earthquake deaths and his participation in artist protests in Beijing. The police beat Ai up, eventually leading to emergency brain surgery in Germany.

UPDATE:

Human Rights in China, a Chinese organization started in 1985, has noted that they did not specifically report the confession, rather it came from a reader submission. The reader, writing under an alias, claims to be a Xinhua reporter. The first paragraph of the submission is translated below, and the Chinese language version is on their site. The claim and the description of the torture is pretty graphic and disturbing.

Conspiracy Behind Ai Weiwei Confession Under Torture: Fu Zhenghua* and Liu Qibao** Use Office for Personal Revenge

Ron Shoujing (alias of a Xinhua reporter)

Ai Weiwei Already Signed Confession under Torture

On April 19, 2011, officials from the Xinhua News Agency at the Beijing headquarters in Beijing and the Propaganda Department under the Political Department of the Ministry of Public Security confirmed that one phase of Mr. Ai Weiwei’s tax evasion case has come to an end. An official with a conscience from the Ministry of Public Security revealed that during the interrogation Ai was subject to torture in order to extract a confession from him. He said that Ai’s case is being handled jointly by the Economic Investigation General Unit and the State Security General Unit of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. Fu Zhenghua, the Director of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed the personnel handling the case to show Ai Weiwei the video of Gao Zhisheng being tortured, which included [images of] electric batons being inserted into Gao’s anus, and his blood, semen, feces, and urine draining out. Fu Zhenghua also issued an order: use the same method for dealing with Gao Zhisheng to make Ai Weiwei do what we want him to do. After using torture for several consecutive days, Ai Weiwei was finally forced to sign the confession paper.

*Director, Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau

**First Secretary, Party Committee, Sichuan Province

UPDATE 2:

The Chinese government has also removed the iconic statue of Confucius from its place at Tiananmen Square, reports Global Times. Government figures haven’t spoken on the reason for the removal, but a hard-line Communist site had a photo of the statue with the character for “destroy” on it.

It’s possible that the statue is being removed for repair or refurbishing, but Global Times also notes that a Chinese poll on People.com.cn showed that over 70% of responders didn’t approve of the Confucius figure. The Chinese government only recently rehabilitated Confucius, as the Communists are largely against organized “religion,” so the removal is unexpected from that perspective. See a post on Artinfo for more details and explanation. A photo of the statue is below:

The Confucius sculpture at the head of Tiananment Square (image via artinfo.com)

Related:

  • Former ambassador to China (and possible 2012 presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman has repeatedly spoken out against the artist’s detention, and continues to do so loudly and publicly. If only other government figures would do the same.
  • Chinese hackers and internet users have been launching a full scale assault on the spread of information about Ai Weiwei online. They have taken down a site hosting an international petition to free Ai Weiwei and have begun to spam Twitter hashtags relating to the artist.
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