Ai Weiwei Hoping to Teach in Berlin; Liao Yiwu “Ecstatic” to Be There (Updated)

Ai Weiwei has accepted a position as visiting lecturer at the Berlin University of Arts. The conditions of his release, however, forbid travel outside Beijing for a one-year period, and it is therefore unclear whether or when he will be able to start (see update below). From The New York Times:

He said he was concerned about how the Chinese authorities would react to the offer because “it shows strong support for my moral position.” […]

On Wednesday, he said that the lecturing position in Berlin had been in the works for some time, “but I never really made my mind up” until recently. He said that he had not discussed the post with the Chinese government or sought permission to travel abroad.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to stop me” from leaving China to teach, he said, “but it’s really unpredictable.”

In a telephone interview on Wednesday evening, Mr. Ai said he did not know whether the government would allow him to return should he leave. “I have no idea. I cannot predict,” he said. “I think that would be a tragedy.”

The Associated Press reports developments in Ai’s battle against tax evasion charges, which authorities claimed were the reason for his detention.

Tax officials visited Ai’s studio late last month to say his design company Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. owed $770,000 in back taxes from the last decade and $1.1 million in fines.

Company lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said Wednesday that the firm wanted the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau to provide proof of the alleged tax evasion and to return the company’s financial records seized during Ai’s detention.

“Whether there are unpaid taxes or not requires the support of evidence in terms of facts regarding transactions and profits. We must first be clear about this question. But we haven’t seen the specific proof and don’t know where the financial records are now,” Pu told The Associated Press

Pu said the company was also requesting that the hearing be made open to the public, saying the case did not involve commercial secrets. A letter from Ai’s supporters calling for an open hearing was also submitted to the bureau Wednesday.

Last week, writer Liao Yiwu went into what he hopes will be a short-term exile in Berlin:

After being denied an exit visa 17 times, yanked off planes and trains by the police and threatened with yet more prison time, one of China’s most persecuted writers, Liao Yiwu, slipped across the border into Vietnam last week and then made his way, via Poland, to Germany, where he promptly declared himself an exile.

… “I’m ecstatic, I’m finally free,” he said in a telephone interview from Berlin on Monday morning before plunging into a day of interviews and photo shoots. “I feel like I’m walking through a dream.” […]

[Liao] leaves behind his family in southwestern Sichuan Province, including his mother, his son, two siblings and a girlfriend. “I’m trying to convince myself that I won’t be away from China very long, that things will change sooner than later,” he said ….

“Germany, the U.S. and Australia have all welcomed me,” he said. “But the place I really want to be is China.”

Whatever freedoms Liao and Ai may enjoy in Germany, unrestricted access to the Internet will not be among them—at least according to the Vice Mayor of Xiamen, who recently singled the country out for its “ideological management” of online content. From Shanghaiist:

“The commonfolk in Germany have a very hard time accessing the Internet. Not only do they have to jump through hoops to get approval, it’s also very expensive. In the West, there is a great focus on ideological mangement, and they go way further than we do in their control of the Internet. Therefore, we can say that our country is very civilised, very democratic, and everybody should feel very fortunate.”

See also: Jerome Cohen’s explanation of Ai’s legal situation and, via CDT, Ai Weiwei’s discussion of a “partial move” to Berlin shortly before his detention and a New Yorker article from last week on Liao’s exile.

Update: From The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore on Twitter:

Ai Weiwei tells us that he won’t be able to take up the position in Berlin for at least one year 

Ai Weiwei said he cannot leave Beijing until June 22, 2012 at earliest, and then he’s not sure what happens 

Ai Weiwei can’t comment on his situation otherwise. But says he is allowed out of his studio into the city, if he lets minders know