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China's Ai Weiwei says tax hearing is unfair

posted 21 Jun 2012, 03:27 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 21 Jun 2012, 03:28 ]

Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei says that the appeal hearing for a tax evasion claim against his company is unfair.

BEIJING, CHINA (JUNE 20, 2012) (REUTERS) - Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei called an appeal hearing against a tax fine unfair early on Thursday (June 21) after police warned him to stay away and blocked journalists from approaching the cramped court room which only had five seats.

"The situation we're facing now is the judiciary is not independent. The police, the tax agency and the courts are all fundamentally entwined together, so the conclusion is it's very difficult to be corrected. Basically, they serve to protect one another," he said after the hearing that he did not attend himself.

Ai said that despite the courts' consenting to hear the appeal, police warned him not to attend and sent several patrol cars to park outside the studio where he lives. He stayed away from the hearing, but he said his wife Lu Qing, who is also the firm's legal representative, had attended.

Beijing's Chaoyang District Court agreed last month to hear the case brought by the company that markets Ai's work, a departure from consistent refusal by the courts, strictly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, to give dissidents any hearing.

Government tax authorities are demanding the company that markets Ai's work pay a 15 million yuan (2.4 million U.S. dollars) penalty for tax evasion. His supporters say the case has been trumped up, part of a drive to muzzle the outspoken social critic.

The hearing, which did not deliver a verdict, lasted about eight hours and was held behind closed doors. Dozens of police and cars blocked journalists from approaching the court, saying they did not have permission to be there.

The company's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said the hearing was grossly unfair.

"The case today will go down as an ugly one in China's legal history. I think that our courts behaved very cowardly. They only gave me one minute to make my closing argument," said Pu.

Pu said the court is likely to announce a verdict in about a month.

The bearded artist has been a persistent irritant to authorities and has parried efforts to silence him, communicating with his supporters on Twitter and calling for a public forum to discuss his tax case.