Last week, we reported that dissident artist Ai Weiwei — who had just received a tax bill from authorities to the tune of $2.4 million — was using Alipay and social networking sites to solicit and collect donations, in essence crowd-sourcing his taxes.
Since then, he’s raised a bundle of money — over $550,000 according to the New York Times — but the campaign does appear to have caught the attention of authorities, and not in a good way.
Reports on Twitter are saying that Ai Weiwei’s Sina Weibo account has been blocked, as has that of one of his volunteers who has been helping with the collection of funds. Our initial investigation appears to confirm this, as accessing Ai Weiwei’s Weibo account now results in the following screen:
The text says that the user “does not exist,” but note that the URL for the image above (which is what appears when accessing Ai’s weibo page) includes the phrase “userblock”. When attempting to view the profile of a user that really doesn’t exist, the page displayed is the same, but the URL reads “usernotexist” instead of “userblock”, as displayed in the image below.
This blockage comes on the same day as the Global Times, a state-run English newspaper, published an editorial downplaying and questioning the fundraising campaign:
Ai’s borrowing and the subsequent donations will not make any substantive change to Ai’s case. First, it will not alter the matter of Ai’s tax evasion, something his followers don’t even question.
[...] The donations will not change the public’s attitude toward Ai’s case, either. 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. Ai’s political preference along with his supporters’ cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.
The editorial contains some highly questionable assertions. For example, it states that Ai was detained last spring for “around 40 days” when in actuality he was held for over 80 days. But as it appeared in a major state publication, it does serve to indicate that the government is moving to address Ai’s campaign.
I had expected the response to this campaign to come sooner, and I remain amazed his Alipay account hasn’t been closed yet, but if Sina is shutting the doors on him, it may be just a matter of time before Alibaba decides to do the same.