Date Reported for Heywood Murder Trial

Gu Kailai’s trial for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood is to start on August 9th, according to a friend of her family. From CNN’s Stephen Jiang and Jaime FlorCruz:

The trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai, is expected to start Thursday in the eastern city of Hefei, according to the friend, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Gu and a family aide were charged in the November death of British businessman Neil Heywood. If convicted, Gu could face the death penalty, but the friend said her life is expected to be spared.

Each of the defendants will be allowed to have two relatives at the trial, which is expected to be speedy, according to the friend.

Reuters reported that two sources, also anonymous, had given the same start date, and that British diplomats had requested access to Gu’s trial.

Much else about the trial remains unknown, as NYU law professor Jerome Cohen wrote in a South China Morning Post article republished by the US Asia Law Institute. He recently argued in the same newspaper that infringements of criminal defendants’ rights “make a mockery of China’s claims to have established ‘a socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics’“, and sees signs of similar infringements in Gu’s case:

What kind of trial can Gu and her present co-defendant, a former assistant, expect? Will it be open to the public and foreign and domestic media? Thus far, the indictment has not been released and we do not know whether the trial has been officially characterised as secret. It is likely to be closed if the authorities believe there might be a risk of disclosing, for example, either how the defendants allegedly obtained the cyanide that reportedly killed their victim or lurid details of personal and business relations among Bo, Gu, Heywood and others. An open trial might also risk a defendant’s revealing emotional outburst.

Will the accused have capable, independent defence counsel? They have been denied the right to select their own lawyers. Their families retained experienced Beijing attorneys many weeks ago, but neither lawyers nor family members have been allowed to contact defendants. Instead, Hefei authorities have reportedly appointed local lawyers, who are plainly under their control and can be relied on to follow orders. This is common practice in “sensitive” mainland cases, including that of Chen Guangcheng’s nephew, Chen Kegui, for attempted murder.

Amidst this uncertainty, the verdict—though not the sentence—appears to be a foregone conclusion: Xinhua’s announcement of the charges last week stated that “the facts … are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial.” From Tom Lasseter at McClatchy:

Unless there’s a radical departure from established practice, the proceedings will serve as yet another reminder that while this nation has the trappings of government and a court system, it’s the Communist Party that wields ultimate power.

“There’s no use talking about frustrations. I just need to tell you the fact, the conclusion: China’s judiciary is not independent,” said Mo Shaoping, a prominent rights lawyer whose firm represented Liu Xiaobo, a dissident who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while sitting in a Chinese prison cell.

[…] “With a case like this, with a lot of attention and sensitivity, the verdict is not going to be decided by a judge from the . . . intermediate people’s court,” Mo said.

That is, the party, not the jurist, will call the shots.

Perry Link questioned a number of friends—”well-known critics of the regime”—about the case and the political factors driving it. He describes how Bo’s rise and fall have both threatened to disrupt the country’s impending leadership transition, and examines some of the many “black-box mysteries” surrounding the trial. From The New York Review of Books:

Did she really do it? “China’s justice system is the fairest in the world,” quipped one. “They don’t even arrest you unless they know you did it.” Jiang Qisheng, who spent four years in prison for organizing a candlelight memorial for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, has published an essay in which he compares Bogu Kailai’s fate to that of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing after Mao died. Jiang puns on fazhi “rule of law” and fazhi “the law knows.” The prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang notes that Bogu has not, as far as anyone knows, been able to consult a lawyer.

[…] Is it possible, I asked, that Bo’s wife is being targeted as a scapegoat for Bo, in order to leave the way open for an eventual return by Bo? I had seen speculation of this kind in the Western press, but from my friends in Beijing heard only a contemptuous response. “When has the Communist Party ever done this?” asked an eminent historian. “When has any struggle like this ever not ended in total victory for one side and total defeat for the other?” The book dealer said, “The only question now is the length of Bo’s prison term. Nothing can free Bo short of a collapse of the whole system.”

Nevertheless, an article in The Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief suggests that Bo’s punishment may be relatively light:

[… A]s noted Beijing-based human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang pointed out, “if Gu has not been implicated with corruption-related offences, it is likely that her husband Bo will also not be accused of a similar crime.” In other words, since Bo, the 63-year-old son of revolutionary elder Bo Yibo, has only been cited for a “serious breach of party discipline” by party authorities—and not for corruption-related offenses—he need not even appear in a court of law. According to CCP regulations, cadres suspected of breaking party discipline may only be investigated by the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI)—and such proceedings are usually not publicized (Ming Pao [Hong Kong], July 28; Cable TV News [Hong Kong], July 26).

If the Bo case will be handled only by CCDI investigators, his punishment is unlikely to be severe. As things stand, Bo may be charged with trying to intercept the phone calls of senior party leaders as well as failing to maintain discipline among his subordinates. The ousted “warlord” might need to take political responsibility for former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun’s attempt last February to seek political asylum in the U.S. Consulate in nearby Chengdu. Wang, a former protégé of Bo’s, had apparently fun afoul of his patron by exposing Gu’s involvement in the Heywood murder. The results of the investigation, which are expected to be announced at the 7th Plenary Session of the Central Committee scheduled to take place about one month before the 18th Party Congress, are likely to be little if anything beyond Bo’s expulsion from the party (Oriental Daily News [Hong Kong], July 30; Sina.com, July 28).

Link continues:

In a larger sense … Bogu Kailai is still a scapegoat—not for her husband but for the whole Communist Party. By focusing all the blame on her, and “bringing her to justice,” the Party, in its tradition of maintaining decorous exteriors, can extend the fiction that everything is basically fine. We, the Party, the center of China, are fine. Shortly after Wang Lijun went to the US Consulate, a joke appeared on the Chinese Internet. Wang Lijun is an ethnic Mongolian, and Bogu Kailai is said to have permanent-resident status in Singapore. The joke said: “This whole case is about a Mongolian who ran to the Americans to expose a Singaporean who killed a Brit. Nothing to do with China.”

The Economist’s Banyan column concluded this week that, in light of the Bo-Gu scandal, “the whole edifice [of Party rule] begins to look rather brittle.”

THUGS and bandits. Any day now, the world will hear the guilty verdict handed down by a Chinese court on Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, a disgraced Chinese politician. China’s rulers hope this will draw a line under an embarrassing, lurid murder trial. They may get away with it. But the episode gives the lie to many of the myths they foster: that, despite being unelected, they are “meritocrats”, in their jobs because they are good at them; that they are, if not entirely honest, then at least corrupt within forgivable bounds; and that the way a new generation of leaders is chosen every ten years is orderly and consensual. The Bo Xilai case has lifted a curtain on a world of thuggery, banditry and vicious, personalised power struggles, reminiscent in some ways of the ten-year nightmare from which the country spent a generation trying to awaken: the Cultural Revolution.

[…] China’s leaders are highly sensitive to the notion that the Bo-Gus are not freaks, but actually typical of the ruling class. Bloomberg, a news agency, has suffered sanctions for reporting on the wealth amassed by relations of Xi Jinping, China’s next leader. Mr Xi, like Mr Bo, is a revolutionary aristocrat, the son of a civil-war hero. Some “princelings” feel themselves born to rule.

In an apparent effort to resist any such comparisons, Xi issued a barely veiled denunciation of Bo in a recent speech. From The Telegraph’s Tom Phillips:

In a recent speech, reproduced this week in the Qiushi Journal, an official policy magazine controlled by China’s Communist Party, the country’s current vice-president, Mr Xi, said not staying “in close contact with the people” would lead to “frustration and failure”.

“It should be noted that there are indeed some party members and cadres who have spent lavishly, developing a taste for extravagance and luxury, pursuing personal political performance and individual pleasure,” Mr Xi said, according to the magazine.

“Some party members and cadres are even indulging in feasting and pleasure-seeking, and have consequently fallen into the abyss of luxury and corruption. The lessons are profound,” he added.

Several of the arguments in the Perry Link and Banyan articles above bear on Eric X. Li’s debate with Minxin Pei on ‘China and Democracy’ at this summer’s Aspen Ideas Festival. Also see yesterday’s round-up on CDT for more recent news on the Bo and Gu cases and their fallout.