Chinese court upholds Ai Weiwei tax fine

Sat Jul 21, 2012 1:53am EDT
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By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Friday upheld a $2.4 million fine for tax evasion against the country's most famous dissident, Ai Weiwei, after barring him from attending the hearing, in a case that critics accuse Beijing of using to muzzle the outspoken artist.

Ai had asked the Chaoyang District court to overturn the city tax office's rejection of his appeal against the tax evasion penalty imposed on the company he works for, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, which produces his art and designs.

The artist said that Chinese police barred him from showing up in person, saying earlier he had "absolutely no hope" the court would rule in his favor.

"Today's verdict shows that this country, more than 60 years after its founding still has no basic legal process, still has no respect for the truth, still will never give taxpayers and citizens an ability to justify themselves," Ai said.

"The entire judiciary is shrouded in darkness," he told reporters at his home in northeastern Beijing after the verdict, adding that he would now sue the Chaoyang court in a higher court, ensuring he will remain a thorn in the government's side.

The case adds to China's already tarnished image on human rights -- at least in the West -- coming on the heels of a score of other high-profile cases, including the fleeing to the U.S. Embassy of blind, self-taught legal activist Chen Guangcheng.

"It has cost them dearly, but I think it reflects where the Chinese authorities are at," said Corinna-Barbara Francis, China researcher at human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

"It reflects how precarious their position is," she added. "Obviously it comes from deep insecurity that they would have to go after someone like him."   Continued...

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (L) closes the door of a car as his wife Lu Qing (in car) leaves for the courthouse before his verdict hearing in Beijing, July 20, 2012.REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic