Artist and activist Ai Weiwei celebrated a minor victory against the Chinese government after the Beijing tax bureau agreed to review the 6.6 million RMB tax-evasion fine slapped on the company he worked for, in an effort to stifle his speaking out.
"I can't say I'm surprised," Ai said Thursday. "There are indeed lots of problems with the case, and I believe they will treat this review seriously. I believe nothing is fixed, and every step is a test of the law. That's how the authorities should see it too. But I don't think this is a sign of the authorities softening their stance either, as we still don't know the result."
His lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said on his microblog account that he welcomed the decision, saying it was "within reason and expectations".
In November, the Beijing tax bureau fined Fake Cultural Development, a firm founded by Ai but registered under his wife Lu Qing's name, 15 million RMB for alleged back taxes and penalties.
He had to pay the 15 million RMB within 15 days or a 8.45 million RMB guarantee. Ai did the latter with help from supporters, many of whom threw money into his property in the form of paper planes.
The request for the administrative review is for the penalty, a 9,000-word application that Ai made available online. It says the legal basis for the penalty was illegal, and that the penalty was implemented in ways that violated procedures, including illegal early interference by the police.
A few days from now he and his lawyer will file another application for reviewing the alleged back taxes.
According to the law, the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau has two months to decide if the penalty was rightfully or wrongfully imposed. If Ai thinks the decision is unfair, he can then bring an administrative law suit against the tax bureau.
Now the ball is firmly in the government's court.
Ai is giving it a chance to save face by admitting it made an administrative error; but if it chooses to go ahead and uphold the bureau's outrageous actions, it only proves the government's motives in its efforts to silence him.