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Ai’s associates, clockwise from top left: Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao, Zhang Jinsong

The New York Times reports that the lawyer representing Ai Weiwei’s studio is fighting the $2 million USD fines that Ai’s studio faces for charges of “tax evasion.” Liu Zhenggang and Hu Mingfen have technically been released, as has reporter Wen Tao, but none of them have yet been seen in person. Statements by Chinese authorities say that Liu suffered a heart attack while under interrogation and was transported to a hospital.

Ai’s FAKE studio has retained lawyer Pu Zhiqiang to represent them against charges of tax evasion levied by the Chinese government. Pu “filed a request for an administrative review before the tax authorities,” but the case is handicapped by the government’s pillaging of the studio after Ai’s arrest: “Mr. Pu said he was hamstrung by a lack of financial documents, which were seized by the police shortly after Mr. Ai was detained in early April,” writes Andrew Jacobs.

Ai’s family is pushing for recognition of the fact that Ai is not technically in charge of the studio’s finances; it is registered in his wife’s name. If that’s the case, then it’s even more obvious that Ai’s arrest was politically and not economically motivated. Chinese lawyer and activist Liu Xiaoyuan has suggested that Ai crowdsource the fines through Twitter, asking each of his 100,000 followers to donate. The artist himself is still silent, a presumed condition of his release.

Though it has been confirmed that Ai studio architect Liu Zhenggang and accountant Hu Mingfen have technically been released by the Chinese government, there has been no word from either of them and their locations are still unknown. Organization China Human Rights Defenders writes, “CHRD has learned that Liu suffered a heart attack while under interrogation and entered Lanzhou Armed Police Hospital after being released. There is no information on when he was checked into the hospital or his current health condition (emphasis added).” Wen Tao and Hu Mingfen are entirely unaccounted for.

Could Liu’s heart attack have been one of the reasons China rushed Ai out of custody? It is believed that Hu Mingfen and Wen Tao are released and safe, but given the news about Liu perhaps there is reason to doubt that. As always, the Chinese government is more willing to mess with people who don’t have international reputations.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...