A Beijing court has rejected artist Ai Weiwei's appeal of a more than $2m fine for tax evasion, a case he says is part of an intimidation campaign to stop him from criticising the government.
Ai, an internationally renowned artist detained for three months last year after making remarks critical of the government, was barred from the court where the verdict was read on Friday.
His lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the court ruled that authorities used legal procedures in their case against Ai's design company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. Pu said the ruling was made "totally without reason".
Security was heavy outside the Chaoyang District Court. Plainclothes and uniformed police were blocking roads and forcing media and diplomats to leave the area.
Beijing Fake Cultural Development was ordered to pay 15 million yuan ($2.4m) in back taxes and fines, in a penalty interpreted by activists as punishment for his criticism of the authoritarian government.
The company appealed the fine and filed a lawsuit accusing the tax bureau of violating laws in handling witnesses, evidence and company accounts in the case.
Ai's wife, Lu Qing, the legal representative of Beijing Fake Cultural Development, was allowed into the court along with Pu and another lawyer. Pu said the court's rejection is just the beginning of the design firm's defence.
"We have lost this lawsuit but we believe that our action in reality can serve as a symbol of the awakening of civil consciousness," Pu said. "We do not recognise the legality of the ruling."
Since he emerged from detention last year, Ai has been refused permission to travel and is under constant surveillance. He still frequently criticises the government on Twitter, which is blocked in China but accessible to tech-savvy citizens.
A sculptor, photographer and installation artist, Ai has increasingly used his art and online profile to draw attention to injustices in Chinese society and the need for greater transparency and rule of law.
Before his own detention last April, he was using Twitter to publicise the disappearance of fellow activists in a widespread crackdown by the government.
He also has spoken out about a number of national scandals, including the deaths of students in shoddily built schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, children killed or sickened by tainted infant formula and a deadly high-rise fire in Shanghai that killed 58 people and was blamed on negligent workers and corrupt inspectors.