Police blocked Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who has created works critical of the government, from attending a court hearing today in his lawsuit challenging a 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) tax bill.
One of Ai’s legal advisers in the case, Liu Xiaoyuan, was called in for a meeting with police at 8:30 p.m. yesterday and hasn’t been heard from since, Ai said in a phone interview today. He said police had gathered at his home in an attempt to intimidate him as he challenges the government.
“They said, ‘we’re telling you you cannot go, that’s an order,’” Ai said. “There are police outside the gate. If I step outside they will arrest me.”
Ai’s lawsuit is challenging a tax bill authorities issued after he was released without charges from almost three months of detention last year. The bill is for back taxes that authorities say are owed by Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company controlled by Ai’s wife that markets his work.
Ai said was told earlier there weren’t any seats remaining inside the Chaoyang District Court for the open hearing, where lawyers will present his challenge to the tax evasion penalty the government levied against Beijing Fake Cultural Development.
Calls to the court went unanswered today. The news department of Beijing’s police department didn’t immediately answer faxed questions seeking comment.
When he asked why he wouldn’t be allowed to attend the hearing, Ai said police told him the tax case was against the company, not him. He said he expected a verdict today.
“I think they’ll try to finish it as soon as possible,” he said. “I think they will never give us a chance to explain.”
Ai’s works have included an installation at London’s Tate Modern gallery turbine hall featuring millions of ceramic sunflower seeds and another for Munich’s Haus der Kunst that consisted of 9,000 backpacks to commemorate schoolchildren who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He has blamed poor building standards for the deaths and accused the government of underreporting how many children died in the quake.
He also collaborated on the design of the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, working with the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Ai was profiled in the film “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which was shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
A June 18 commentary in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper grouped Ai together with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, saying they have both “been rejected by the mainstream Chinese society but are portrayed in a noble light by the West.”
“Despite the seemingly huge wave created by activists as reported by Western media, they have failed to make much of a dent within Chinese society,” the commentary said.
— With assistance by Nick Wadhams