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Censorship and Taxes: The Latest Developments in Ai Weiwei’s Legal Battles with the Chinese Authorities

China’s most infamous dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, claims that he was barred from attending his court hearing yesterday, June 21, in his lawsuit against a governmental tax agency due to police warnings and intimidation. Chinese courts, which are controlled by the ruling communist party, rarely accept lawsuits filed by dissidents or their relatives. However, last month, Beijing’s Chaoyang district court agreed to hear the artist’s claim that his company, Fake Cultural Development Ltd, was illegally fined 15 million yuan–or $2.38 million–in back taxes last year.

However, the court’s decision appears to have been been accompanied by efforts to keep the artist from actually attending trial. Ai’s legal consultant, Liu Xiaoyuan, has been missing since he was told to meet state security officers last Tuesday. The artist also told CNN that the police started calling him repeatedly, warning him not to come to court. He also said that an unprecedented thirty police cars were parked outside his house yesterday. 

Infamous for his widespread use of Twitter to communicate with the public, Ai remained true to form. He continually tweeted updates on the police barricade outside his studio and sarcastically thanked the Chinese authorities for protecting the artist’s Caochangdi studio and “preventing unknown forces from interfering with judicial order.” He also tweeted a picture of himself in a police uniform.

This lawsuit is the most recent development in a series of run-ins with the Chinese authorities. In April of 2011, he was detained for 81 days without charge and ordered to pay 15 million yuan in back taxes, which officials said he owed through his company. Ai and his supporters have said that these allegations are a cover for accusations that he is trying to overthrow the state. The artist was held mainly in solitary confinement until he was released in June. 

However, governmental efforts to silence Ai have consistently failed, as overwhelming public support and donations were sent to the artist in response to the tax penalty. Roughly 30,000 people donated money to help Ai cover the bond required to contest the tax charges.He paid 8.45 million yuan late last year in order to contest the charges. The artist also stated that his wife would have been jailed if he had not paid the sum at that time.

In response, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment directly on Ai’s allegations. Hong Lei told international journalists on Wednesday that “China is a country of laws… China’s constitution and laws protect citizens’ legal rights.” Ai said that the police actions are contradictory and “really harming the legal process.”

Ultimately, the artist chose not to attend trial, but did send his wife, Lu Qing, to court in his place. Supporters, critics, and the international community await developments in the struggles between the artist and the authorities as they unfold.

Sources: China Dissident Ai Weiwei Harassed by Police, He Says, Ai Weiwei’s Lawyer Missing as Artist is Warned Away from Tax Hearing