Chinese officials shuttering Ai Weiwei’s company

AFP and the Guardian, BEIJING

Wed, Oct 03, 2012 - Page 6

Chinese authorities will shut down the company founded by Ai Weiwei (艾未未), his lawyer said yesterday, in the latest step in what the dissident artist has called a campaign of persecution to silence his activism.

Ai’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan (劉曉原) said the business license of the company, Fake Cultural Development, would be revoked for failing to follow annual registration requirements.

The company has been unable to do so because police confiscated all its materials and its stamp when they detained Ai last year.

The burly, wispy-bearded Ai, 55, has been under pressure over government allegations of tax evasion by the company, resulting in a US$2.4 million fine by the Beijing tax bureau last year.

The internationally renowned avant-garde artist, who denies the allegations, has emerged as a fierce government critic, often through his prolific use of the Internet and social media.

Liu said it was not immediately clear when the closure would take place or how it would affect the tax penalty.

Another lawyer advising Ai said the shutdown would not impact his art career, as he could undertake projects in his own name, while the company had already ceased operations.

“The company practically speaking doesn’t exist anymore,” Du Yanlin said.

Supporters helped Ai raise US$1.3 million to pay the bond required to contest the charge, but the balance of the fine remains to be paid.

A Beijing court rejected his final appeal last week.

“If the company has already been been revoked and no longer exists, and there remains more than 6 million [yuan] in fines, who is supposed to pay it?” said Liu, adding that they had requested a hearing on the matter.

“I think they want to back down to try and conclude this case. From the beginning they should not have had it; they were using very old tactics to punish someone and make up a crime to make people think ‘He’s a bad guy’? That didn’t work and it backfired. I think it completely failed,” Ai told the Guardian on Monday.

“Of course they didn’t like the fact it had gone on so long and could last longer,” he said.

Ai added that he had mixed feelings about the long-running case.

“Of course we have lost the battle — they kept our [tax deposit]. But I think we have won the war. We gave people a clear understanding of what the Fake case was about and how they handled it,” he said.

He said he hoped it would mean that they could not do the same to anyone else.

Ai’s outspoken criticism of China’s leaders and involvement in sensitive social campaigns have made him a thorn in the government’s side.

He is known for tallying the number of schoolchildren killed in a 2008 earthquake, a taboo subject because many schools collapsed while other buildings did not, fuelling suspicion that corruption led to poor construction.

Ai was detained for 81 days last year amid a roundup of activists during the Arab Spring popular uprisings and, upon release, accused of tax evasion and barred from leaving the country for one year.

Although the travel ban expired this June, Ai said he was still unable to travel abroad pending an investigation for alleged crimes including putting “pornography” on the Internet. The restriction has prevented him from attending overseas exhibitions of his work.