China’s dissident artist Ai Weiwei says police have stopped him leaving his studio in the capital Bejing to attend a court hearing regarding his challenge to a massive $2.4 million tax bill.
A message tweeted by Ai, 55, early Wednesday said that 30 police cars had turned up outside the studio, while photos were posted showing injuries sustained by one of Ai’s staff who tried to film the vehicles.
The incident came a day after Ai told Reuters that he had received constant telephone calls from police warning him not to travel to the courthouse, telling him “you can never make it. Don’t even try.” Ai also told the news agency that he had been unable to reach his legal consultant, Liu Xiaoyuan, since late Tuesday when Liu had been ordered to meet with state security officials.
A $2.4 million fine for “back taxes” was imposed last year by the tax authorities on a design company, Fake Cultural Development, founded by Ai. He had to pay a $1.3 million bond in January to appeal it, and says the bill is the Chinese authorities’ revenge for his political activism. Last month a Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court agreed to hear Ai’s lawsuit.
According to the BBC, Ai’s wife, who is the legal representative of Fake Cultural Development, is thought to be attending the hearing in Beijing on Wednesday.
An internationally renowned artist and prominent critic of human rights abuses committed by China’s communist-controlled government, Ai was taken into custody last April and kept at a secret location for 81 days as police rounded up dissidents amid calls for an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in China, the Agence France Presse reported.
According to the BBC, a gagging order was imposed on him when he was freed in June, but he continued to tweet and speak with the foreign press. The tax evasion charges followed shortly after, and the Chinese authorities maintain that Fake Cultural Development owes them money which must be paid back.