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Ai Weiwei's lawyer missing as artist is warned away from tax hearing

Chinese dissident being told not to attend court as it considers his challenge to a fine for alleged unpaid taxes

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has said police are warning him to stay away from the court hearing on his lawsuit against a tax agency, which he accuses of illegally fining his company 15m yuan (£1.5m).

Meanwhile Ai's legal consultant, Liu Xiaoyuan, has been unreachable since he was told to meet state security officers on Tuesday night, according to Ai and one of his employees, Liu Yanping. Liu Xiaoyuan did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

Beijing's Chaoyang district court agreed last month to hear the lawsuit from the company that markets Ai's work, a departure from the courts' consistent refusal to give dissidents any hearing.

His supporters say the tax case, due to be heard later on Wednesday, is part of the government's drive to muzzle the outspoken social critic.

Despite the court's acceptance of his lawsuit, Ai told Reuters that police called him repeatedly on Tuesday afternoon warning him not to turn up at the courthouse. "'You can never make it. Don't even try,'" Ai, 55, said police told him. He said they gave no reason.

"This nation can have anything, they can have a satellite that goes to the sky and the moon, but they can never give you a clear reason why," he said. "This is ridiculous, right? There's no conversation, no discussion. Maybe they don't even know the reason. It's a really mysterious nation."

A subsequent tweet from Ai Weiwei's Twitter account at @aiww said: "Ai Weiwei Studio was assaulted when filming 30 police cars outside. Video camera damaged, staff injured."

Another sarcastically thanked Beijing police for sending out so many officers and police cars "to protect Ai Weiwei's studio, in Caochangdi. and prevent unknown forces from interfering with judicial order."

A woman who answered Ai's phone confirmed that large numbers of police were still present and said the artist was not injured but another person at the studio had been.

Earlier, Ai had retweeted a photograph showing him in a - rather too small - police uniform.

Security officers have instructed prominent dissidents to remain in their homes and stay away from the hearing.

Chinese courts are strictly controlled by the ruling communist party and rarely accept lawsuits filed by dissidents or their relatives.

The company's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, told Reuters on Tuesday he hoped for a fair trial. "The price that the authorities will pay for blatantly violating the law is now too large," he said. "This case has always been a fabricated case."

Ai was detained without charge in April 2011 and held mainly in solitary confinement until his conditional release the following June. The artist has been a persistent irritant to authorities and parried efforts to silence him, communicating with his supporters on Twitter and calling for a public forum to discuss his tax case.

Government efforts to muzzle Ai have frequently backfired, as demonstrated by an outpouring of public sympathy – and cash – in response to the tax penalty. About 30,000 people donated money to help Ai cover an 8.45m yuan (£0.8m) bond required to contest the tax charges.

"We simply have to ask [the authorities]: what can they achieve by this? Do you think this nation should be ruled by law?" Ai said. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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