Details of the Trials of Wang Lijun

Xinhua has published a detailed nine-page account of Wang Lijun’s trial, held in Chengdu on Monday and Tuesday this week, for defection, abuse of power, corruption and “bending the law for selfish means”.

“I acknowledge and confess the guilt accused by the prosecuting body and show my repentance,” Wang said in his final statement at court.

“My acts were crimes, and I hope the serious impacts (caused by my acts) both at home and abroad would be eliminated through the trial. Meanwhile, I hope the trial will issue a warning to society and let more people draw lessons from me,” he said.

“For the Party organizations, people and relatives that have cared for me, I want to say here, sincerely, ‘I’m very, very sorry, I’ve let you down,’” Wang said.

Speaking to The New York Times, Wang’s lawyer endorsed the Xinhua account as, for the most part, a faithful record of the proceedings. It offers some explanation for the unannounced early start of what, it was initially reported, would be an “open” trial:

The Chengdu Municipal Intermediate People’s Court held a closed-door trial on Monday for Wang on the charges of defection and abuse of power and an open trial on the charges of bribe-taking and bending the law for selfish ends on Tuesday.

Despite the gravity of these crimes, Xinhua explained, Wang’s sentence is likely to be somewhat reduced because of his “meritorious reporting” of others’ criminal acts. These others may include his former superior, fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, who for the first time was officially linked to the events surrounding his wife’s murder of Neil Heywood. The Xinhua account describes what would turn out to be a pivotal moment, soon after which Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu; Bo is not named, but his identity is clear.

Relevant testimonies from witnesses showed that on Jan. 28, Wang Lijun reported to the then leading official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing Committee that Bogu Kailai was highly suspected in the Nov. 15, 2011 Case. On the morning of Jan. 29, Wang Lijun was angrily rebuked and slapped in the face by the official.

Guo Weiguo, who was present when Wang Lijun was slapped, said in the interrogation record that “the conflict was made public after Wang Lijun was slapped.”

That Bo was told of his wife’s crime and failed to bring it to light appears to implicate him in the cover-up for which Wang and four other police officers have already stood trial. Observers disagree, however, over what the episode’s inclusion in the official record means for Bo’s fate. From The Guardian:

[…] Kerry Brown, an expert on Chinese politics at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy, said the party could still deal with Bo’s case internally, adding: “It seems to have been very rigorous in keeping Bo’s malfeasance apart from Gu’s.

“That kind of story [about the confrontation] was so well known that it was hard not to try to address it.”

He added: “I can’t see any big gains from totally trashing Bo now. Not going for the jugular might be more sensible, particularly at the moment.”

But others have read it as a sign of possible criminal proceedings. June Teufel Dreyer of the University of Miami told Bloomberg, for example, that “the nuggets are the clues which could lead to a Bo Xilai indictment later on. They have very cleverly left the door open with several phrases.” The Financial Times’ Kathrin Hille wrote that this interpretation is consistent “with information recently given to senior party members. Lin Zhe, a professor at the Central Party School, said the main point that the internal investigation had found Mr Bo guilty of was helping to cover up for his wife.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Deborah Kan discussed the issue with Jeremy Page, who concluded that an announcement on Bo’s fate is likely “in the next couple of weeks, or immediately after [the] National Day holiday”.

The final section of the Xinhua account is devoted to emphasising the investigation and trial’s thoroughness, fairness and strict adherence to procedure:

Gu Mingan, a professor with the Law School of the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics as well as an observer at the trials, said the two sides made full efforts to raise and cross-examine evidence during the trials, and the court scrupulously heard the opinions of the prosecutors as well as the defense counsel, fully reflecting the judicial concept of the equality of the prosecution and the defense, and safeguarded the sanctity of law.

After the trials, Wu Qunfang, a resident from the Taoyuan community in the Chenghua District of Chengdu, said that after the trials they have fully understood the beginning and subsequent development of Wang Lijun’s case.

“We believe that all is equal before the law and expect a fair verdict from the people’s court,” Wu said.

Global Times elaborated, stressing the inevitability of justice in China and invoking a favourite recent theme, the awesome “moral whip” of online scrutiny.

Those who commit crimes, regardless of the power or position they hold, will not escape punishment. Wang’s case has strengthened this faith among the public and served as a serious deterrent in the country.

Wang’s trial will drive forward China’s political system, as it has highlighted the urgency of checks and balance of power.

Confusion still exists over the case, but people are gradually believing more that justice will eventually trump over any privilege.

Confidence is built on more criminal officials being firmly punished, on the influential emergence of online supervision and the rising voice of individuals via Weibo.

But the Xinhua account leaves some questions unanswered. Siweiluozi wondered, for example, what evidence exists that Wang had applied to the U.S. for asylum, justifying the charge of defection.

[… W]hat I really, really want to know now, though, is what is the prosecution’s evidence for this? Do they have the application for asylum? If so, how did they get it? Or is their evidence of this fact Wang’s confession?

If the evidence for Wang’s asylum application is based solely on his confession, then this should be insufficient grounds to convict under Chinese law, since Article 46 of the Criminal Procedure Law states, in relevant part:

A defendant cannot be found guilty and sentenced to a criminal punishment if there is only his statement but no evidence.

To be clear, I am not saying that Wang will (or even necessarily should, within the terms of Chinese criminal justice) be acquitted of defection. I’m merely pointing to what I think is an interesting question regarding evidence. Put simply: what is the evidence to back up this charge? Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic that I will ever see either the verdict in this trial or, through some other means, the evidence disclosed in sufficient detail.

Xinhua’s description of Wang’s actions after he was drawn into Gu’s conspiracy, such as secretly keeping hold of evidence against her, shows his acute awareness of being on treacherous ground. But according to a profile of Wang’s earlier career by The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore, he had known for many years that his position was precarious:

As early as the late 1990s, when Mr Wang was a star policeman in the city of Tieling, in Liaoning province, he spilled his fears to Zhou Lijun, the script writer of “Iron Blooded Police Spirits”, a television drama series based on his career. “I was in a bath house with Wang Lijun in Fushun, Liaoning, and we were both sitting naked in the hot tub,” Mr Zhou recalled on his blog.

“And he said: ‘I know exactly what I am, I am just a piece of chewing gum in the officials’ mouths. They will chew me up and when they find there is no taste anymore they will spit me out onto the ground, and God knows whose shoes I will be sticking to by that time.’”

[…] “Everybody has some sort of mental problem,” Mr Wang told Mr Chen, his biographer. “I dream about a normal life, but it is not possible. I am struggling between glory and confusion, but I will not let myself collapse. I may be wiped out by certain powers, or die when I am still young, but history will remember me.”