A Chinese court has upheld its ruling that the artist and dissident Ai Weiwei is guilty of tax evasion. Ai says the fine of 1.9 million euros is politically motivated.
Fifty-five-year-old Ai Weiwei was allowed to be present at his sentencing in court. But he was only allowed to listen. The lawyers for his artist's studio were supposed to have received written notice of the verdict three days prior to the sentencing. Instead, Ai only got word when someone told him one day before it was read out. Because of this procedural error, Ai's lawyers refused to appear in court.
Ai received the verdict calmly, but in his first interview afterward, he described the Chinese justice system as "barbaric" and "antiquated."
"A corrupt society and flawed system can be recognized in many points. It is the fate of each individual that defines the reputation of a country and the credibility of its legal system," Ai told DW. He added that each step in the appeal process made clear that the Chinese judicial system was neither autonomous, nor credible.
Ai was missing for 81 days
The internationally acclaimed artist and dissident has always been a thorn in Beijing's side. He has always posed quite a challenge with his provocative artistic projects. In April of 2011, Ai was taken into police custody as he was traveling from Beijing to Hong Kong. The police kept him at an undisclosed location for 81 days. Later, he was fined around 1.9 million euros for an undefined "economic crime" which Ai appealed.
Ai said he did not find the verdict surprising. "The Chinese people don't believe in justice nor do they believe in judicial autonomy. When the state swindles and bullies people, it is a great disaster for all." He pointed out that he was only one of many people in the country subjected to an arbitrary and politically-controlled justice system. It was a system in dire need of change, if it were ever to win back the trust of the people, he said.
Ai's home in Beijing is under constant surveillance
The verdict means that Ai's design company will have to pay the fine and alleged back taxes. He had already posted a bond of one million euros as a guarantee. That money is now being collected by the Chinese tax authorities. His lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan now expects they will demand the rest very soon.
Liu said the prosecutor's investigation was incomprehensible and that the charges brought against him were ludicrous.
"The allegations of tax evasion were surely not what launched the case. Ai's studio was only searched for evidence of tax evasion for three or four days after the state news agency Xinhua wrote something about a 'white collar crime.' Ai had to give statements on his social activities," Liu explained.
"There was obviously not enough evidence to try him for undermining state authority, so they charged him with an economic crime instead."
Ai has still not been given back his civil liberties. His passport has not been handed back to him, for example, so that he will not be able to take up his invitation as a visiting professor at the Berlin University of the Arts.