A Beijing court yesterday rejected dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s (艾未未) lawsuit over a more than US$2 million fine imposed on his company for tax evasion, a case he says is part of an intimidation campaign to stop him from criticizing the government.
The ruling is the artist’s latest legal setback in challenging the tax penalty that was levied on his company last year, that he and his supporters interpret as official retaliation against his activism.
“Today’s verdict means that after 60 years of the founding of our nation, we still lack the basic legal procedures, the truth is not respected and they do not give taxpayers or citizens any rights to defend oneself,” Ai told reporters at his studio, where he stayed because police told him he was not allowed to attend the hearing. “The whole legal system is in a dark state right now.”
Ai was detained for three months last year during a crackdown on dissent. Following his release, authorities demanded Ai’s design company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, pay 15 million yuan (US$2.35 million) in back taxes and fines. The company filed a lawsuit accusing the tax bureau of violating laws in handling witnesses, gathering evidence and the company’s accounts.
The Chaoyang District People’s Court yesterday announced its verdict amid a heavy security presence, as plainclothed and uniformed police blocked roads, forcing reporters and diplomats to leave the area.
The court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that the reasons given by the design firm in seeking to have the tax penalty revoked did not hold water, according to a copy of the verdict.
The court said, for example, that the company was wrong in arguing that financial accounts seized from Ai’s studio by police should not be used as evidence in the tax authority’s investigation against the firm. It said tax investigators are allowed to use information sent to them by other departments or organizations.
Company attorney Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強), who attended the hearing with Ai’s wife, Lu Qing (路青), who is the company’s legal representative, said the ruling was made “totally without reason.”
Pu said the company would appeal the ruling.
“We have lost this lawsuit, but we believe that our action in reality can serve as a symbol of the awakening of civil consciousness,” Pu said. “We do not recognize the legality of the ruling.”
About a dozen supporters gathered at a nearby intersection while they waited for the verdict.
Du Yanlin (杜嚴林), a tax lawyer who advises Ai, wore a T-shirt with the artist’s name printed on it in bold characters. He said the court’s ruling came as no surprise.
“Through this lawsuit we can clearly recognize what condition the Chinese judicial system is in. We can more clearly understand what Ai Weiwei’s situation is,” Du said. “He still has no freedom. He still can’t have justice.”