Authorities in Beijing have upheld a U.S. $2.4 million tax evasion fine issued to outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in a move that has been widely seen as retaliation for his criticism of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Ai said the decision came suddenly after he made a trip to the tax bureau on Wednesday and vowed to continue to appeal the decision.
"Basically ... they have upheld the original decision by the Beijing tax office," Ai told RFA's Mandarin service.
"I only just went [on Wednesday] to get the review of the decision, and ... before we had managed to give any comment, they had already issued their decision."
"It's very surprising," Ai said.
The bill and fine were issued to Ai's design company following the artist's 81-day detention by police at a secret location last year, which sparked an international outcry that prompted an angry response from Beijing.
The company, named Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., is now legally owned by Ai's wife, Lu Qing.
Official media reports later said he was being detained under investigation for "economic crimes," but Ai and his lawyers have said the tax charges are a political backlash against his vocal activism on behalf of China's least-privileged people.
Ai said on Thursday that he had been told by police during his secret detention that the fine was linked to his criticism of the government.
"As for my secret detention, the police stated very clearly to me that this was a punishment that was linked to my crime of incitement to subvert state power," Ai said.
"They are using economic crimes as a pretext to punish me for thinking independently and for criticizing them openly," he said.
He said the decision doesn't bode well for China's community of rights activists and government critics.
"One can well imagine, given the large number of similar situations that exist in China right now, that they will continue to act in such serious breach of the law," he said.
The tax bill prompted tens of thousands of Ai's supporters to send small donations that ended up totaling nearly 8.7 million yuan ($1.4 million), which was used to pay a guarantee to the tax bureau. Some donations were folded into paper airplanes or wrapped around fruit and thrown over the gate at his home.
He was also given a symbolic 100 euro (U.S. $137) donation from the German government's human rights commissioner.
Hong Kong-based current affairs commentator Ho Leong Leong said the tax fine gives a legalistic veneer to the government's backlash against Ai, who is an internationally popular celebrity with strong support inside China.
"I believe that ... they are using this as a ... form of legal and informal revenge, as a way of keeping Ai Weiwei in line," Ho said.
"China's bureaucracy is more powerful than anything in the country right now."
Ai said he and his legal team will continue to appeal the fine, however.
"We have already posted 8.7 million yuan ($1.4 million) as a bond in the tax bureau's account, so they can now take that money without having to ask our permission," Ai said.
"This is illegal, but judging from our dealings with them ... they have no intention of understanding the truth of the situation," he said.
"This is a form of control ... under the direction of the police."
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.