BEIJING, Oct 2 – Chinese authorities will shut down the company founded by Ai Weiwei, his lawyer said Tuesday, in the latest step in what the dissident artist has called a campaign of persecution to silence his activism.
Ai’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said the business license of the company, Fake Cultural Development, would be revoked for failing to follow annual registration requirements.
The burly, wispy-bearded Ai, 55, has been under pressure over government allegations of tax evasion by the company, resulting in a $2.4 million fine by the Beijing tax bureau last year.
The internationally renowned avant-garde artist, who denies the allegations, has emerged as a fierce government critic, often through his prolific use of the Internet and social media.
Liu said it was not immediately clear when the closure would take place or how it would affect the tax penalty.
Another lawyer advising Ai said the shutdown would not impact his art career, as he could undertake projects in his own name, while the company had already ceased operations.
“The company practically speaking doesn’t exist anymore,” said Du Yanlin.
Supporters helped Ai raise $1.3 million to pay the bond required to contest the charge, but the balance of the fine remains to be paid.
A Beijing court rejected his final appeal last week.
“If the company has already been been revoked and no longer exists, and there remains more than six million (yuan) in fines, who is supposed to pay it?” said Liu, adding that they had requested a hearing on the matter.
Ai’s outspoken criticism of China’s leaders and involvement in sensitive social campaigns have made him a thorn in the government’s side.
He is known for tallying the number of schoolchildren killed in a 2008 earthquake, a taboo subject because many schools collapsed while other buildings did not, fuelling suspicion that corruption led to poor construction.
Ai was detained for 81 days last year amid a roundup of activists during the Arab Spring popular uprisings and, upon release, accused of tax evasion and barred from leaving the country for one year.
Although the travel ban expired this June, Ai said he was still unable to travel abroad pending an investigation for alleged crimes including putting “pornography” on the internet.
The restriction has prevented him from attending overseas exhibitions of his work, the value of which has shot up since his detention thrust him into the global spotlight.