[JURIST] Beijing's Chaoyang District Court on Friday rejected the appeal brought by dissident artist Ai Weiwei [BBC profile] challenging the government's imposition of 15 million yuan (USD $2.4 million) tax evasion penalty. The fine was leveled against Fake Cultural Development Ltd., the company that helps Ai, 55, produce and market his works, which was accused and charged with tax evasion in November. Ai, an internationally acclaimed artist [AFP report] whose works have been exhibited around the world, claims that by imposing such penalty, the government violated the tax law, and he urged the court to overturn the Beijing tax office's rejection of his appeal against the penalty. Friday's ruling did not surprise Ai [Reuters report] because the court on Friday morning rejected lawyers' requests to see evidence against the company, produce witnesses and have an independent auditor verify figures.
The tax penalty is widely viewed as a government attempt to silence one of the country's most outspoken dissidents. About 30,000 people donated money to help Ai cover an 8.45 million yuan bond required to contest the tax charges. Ai plans to appeal the court's decision.
Ai spent 81 days in secret detention last year. Last month the court banned Ai from attending [JURIST report] the first hearing in the case, and further banned him from attending any hearings, including Friday's delivery of the verdict. Ai's wife Lu Qing, the legal representative of Fake Cultural Development, attended the hearing with other lawyers and reported that during the hearing witnesses they requested were blocked from testifying including Ai. Other rights activists such as Hu Jia [advocacy blog; JURIST news archive] were also barred from attending the hearing. The court also closed the five-seat chamber to journalists and filming. The court agreed to hear [JURIST report] the case in May, surprising many with its ruling since Chinese courts rarely accept appeals claims brought by dissidents and their relatives.