China artist Ai Weiwei's tax evasion appeal rejected

Ai Weiwei: "This country... still doesn't have a basic legal process"

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A court in China has rejected an appeal by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei against a tax evasion fine, his lawyer says.

Police barred Mr Ai from attending court in Beijing's Chaoyang district to hear the verdict delivered.

Tax authorities imposed a 15m yuan ($2.4m, £1.5m) fine on Mr Ai's firm for tax evasion in 2011.

Supporters say the fine is politically motivated and Mr Ai wanted the court to overrule the penalty.

''We will keep appealing, until the day comes when we have nothing to lose,'' Mr Ai said via Twitter.

His lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was in court for the verdict, told reporters that the ruling was ''totally without reason''.

The artist, a outspoken critic of the government, was detained for almost three months without charge last year.

"This country has once again proved to the world that law and justice don't exist here" said Ai Weiwei on Twitter.

Outside his door witnesses counted up to 32 police cars.

His lawyers told the court the police were acting illegally preventing a free man from hearing the verdict in his own case.

The entire case they say is illegal, from the secret detention of Mr Ai to the fact there's no real evidence of tax evasion.

Ai Weiwei's fame, his adept use of social media, his refusal to stay silent, and his persistent, sometimes impudent, criticisms of the Communist Party's rule have all made this a litmus test for the way the party deals with dissent.

But, with the transfer of power to a new generation of leaders looming, China's huge security apparatus appears determined to put ''stability'' and ''harmony'' first, and, critics will say, due process second.

After he was released, he was accused of tax evasion and the fine imposed.

'Can't even appear'

The Chinese authorities maintain that the firm, called Fake Cultural Development, owes them money and it must be paid back.

While Mr Ai is a designer for Fake Cultural Development, his wife is the legal representative of his company.

Mr Ai said earlier that police, stationed outside his home, had barred him from attending the court hearing.

''If I can't even appear in court, what more does this country have to do with me?'' he said over Twitter.

Security was tight at the court with reports of both uniformed and plainclothes police in the area and people, including journalists and diplomats, being turned away.

Mr Ai, 55, has said that the tax bill is pay-back for his activism and challenged it on the grounds that proper procedure had not been followed.

The Beijing court agreed to hear the case, in a surprise move.

Ai's tangles with authorities

  • Supported online campaign to compile names of children who died in 2008 Sichuan earthquake - many in schools whose construction was allegedly compromised due to corruption
  • Although a co-designer of Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympics stadium, he later disavowed the project, condemning China's hosting of the Games as "fake and hypocritical"
  • His frequently censored blog was read by 10,000 people a day until shut down by authorities in May 2009; he continues to tweet constantly to more than 150,000 followers
  • He was arrested in April 2011, held for 81 days and slapped with a multi-million dollar fine for tax evasion after he was released - a fine he unsuccessfully challenged in court

"The entire judiciary is shrouded in darkness," he said from his home in northeast Beijing after the verdict.

Earthquake criticism

Born in 1957 in Beijing, Mr Ai, the son of one of China's most famous poets, Ai Qing, has played a key role in contemporary Chinese art over the last two decades.

His involvement in the design of Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' Olympic stadium brought him international prominence.

But he fell out of favour with authorities with his outspoken criticism over the Olympics and the devastating May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

In December 2010, he was among a group of activists and critics banned from travelling. A month later, his studio in Shanghai was demolished after officials said he had failed to obtain planning permission for the building.

He was then detained in April 2011 at Beijing airport.

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