Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Ai Weiwei warned away from tax appeal hearing

DISSIDENT BLOCKED:The artist said police told him he would never make it to yesterday’s hearing. However, he said his wife would attend as his firm’s legal representative

Reuters, BEIJING

Artist Ai Weiwei waits at his home yesterday after claiming he was barred from attending his court hearing against a multimillion-dollar tax fine in Beijing, China.

Photo: AFP

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) yesterday said police had warned him to stay away from a court hearing on his company’s lawsuit challenging a demand for 15 million yuan (US$2.4 million) for tax evasion.

Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court agreed last month to hear the case brought by the company that markets Ai’s work, a departure from consistent refusal by the courts, strictly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, to give dissidents any hearing.

His supporters say the case, due to be heard later yesterday, has been trumped up, part of a drive to muzzle the outspoken social critic.

Ai, 54, said that despite the courts’ acceptance of his lawsuit, police warned him not to attend the hearing.

“‘You can never make it. Don’t even try,’” Ai, 55, said police told him.

He said police gave no reason.

“This nation can have anything, they can have a satellite that goes to the sky and the moon, but they can never give you a clear reason why,” he said. “This is ridiculous, right? There’s no conversation, no discussion. Maybe they don’t even know the reason. It’s a really mysterious nation.”

The bearded artist has been a persistent irritant to authorities and has parried efforts to silence him, communicating with his supporters on Twitter and calling for a public forum to discuss his tax case.

Ai was detained without charge in April last year and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release last year.

Ai said he would stay away from the hearing, but his wife, Lu Qing, who is also the firm’s legal representative, would attend.

Ai’s legal consultant, Liu Xiaoyuan (劉曉原), was also unreachable after he was told to meet state security officers on Tuesday, according to Ai and Liu Yanping, a worker in Ai’s studio.

Liu Xiaoyuan did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

Security officers have instructed prominent dissidents to remain in their homes and stay away from the hearing.

Dozens of police and cars blocked journalists from approaching the court, saying they did not have permission to be there and would be “disrupting public order” if they did not leave.

Ai is urging the court to overturn the city tax office’s rejection of his appeal against the tax evasion penalty imposed on Beijing Fake Cultural Development, the company that has helped produce his art and designs.

The company’s lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強), said on Tuesday that he hoped for a fair trial.

“This case has always been a fabricated case,” he said.

Pu said previously that officials had not shown him any original documents with evidence of tax evasion and had held a closed hearing in July last year, which he said was against the law.

Government efforts to muzzle Ai have frequently backfired, as demonstrated by an outpouring of public sympathy — and cash — in response to the tax penalty. About 30,000 people donated money to help Ai cover an 8.45 million yuan bond required to contest the tax charges.

“We simply have to ask [the authorities]: what can they achieve by this?” Ai said. “Don’t you think this nation should be ruled by law?”

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