China's Communist Party praises the legal system

Sept. 23, 2013 at 3:11 PM
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BEIJING, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- China's ruling Communist Party has praised the judiciary's efforts to publicly conduct the controversial trial of former CPC politburo member Bo Xilai.

However, just how open and how fair the trial was is being questioned by media, bloggers and academics in China.

Bo, former Communist boss of Chongqing city and a former member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Sunday.

State-run Xinhua News Agency reported Bo was given the sentence after being found guilty of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

As a former commerce minister for China and secretary of Chongqing, the flamboyant Bo -- his son went to Oxford and Harvard universities -- had much political power but also many political enemies.

His tough anti-crime and corruption policies may have been the undoing of Bo, the son of a powerful Communist Party elder and revolutionary Red Army commander.

Bo, 64, was removed from power in early 2012.

But his fall from grace accelerated when his wife Gu Kailai, 54, was convicted in August 2012 of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

The British newspaper The Telegraph reported that Heywood had demanded close to $2 million from the Bo family and threatened to kill their son over property ownership deals overseas.

Gu didn't contest the charges during her one-day trial in which prosecutors alleged she got Heywood drunk and gave him cyanide mixed with water. A Bo family aide was sentenced to nine years in jail for confessing his involvement in the murder.

Gu's trial prompted The New York Times to report that "when it comes to patriotic blockbusters, synchronized military parades and choreographed political cavalcades that fill the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese Communist Party knows how to put on a show."

Ordinary Chinese ridiculed the decision to spare Gu's life, saying a commoner would have been executed for the murder of a foreigner, the New Times reported.

The announcement this week of Bo's punishment follows a five-day trial in Jinan Intermediate People's Court from Aug. 22-26.

Critics said the openness and verdict were how the Communist Party intended finally to show the Chinese public that senior politicians weren't above the law.

Prosecutors had argued for a lengthy sentence for Bo, saying he had committed serious crimes and had refused to plead guilty.

Xinhua quoted Bo saying in his final statement he was satisfied with how his trial was conducted.

"During the trial, both prosecution and defense sides had opportunities to fully express their opinions," Bo reportedly said.

"Also, the court released trial transcripts through microblog. All of these have made me more confident of the future of China's judicial system."

A report by Xinhua today backed up Bo's apparent statement, saying the trial followed and set an example for China's "basic legal principles."

The Xinhua article pointed to a comment in The Legal Daily, the official newspaper of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee.

The Legal Daily, a newspaper of the political and legal authorities of the CPC, said "the public trial showed procedural justice, while the open verdict in accordance with the law showed substantive justice."

Legal Daily said the facts of the case are clear -- Bo withdrew a confession during the trial, but "he couldn't justify his reason and his explanation contradicted the evidence of the case."

The case showed that "in China, a socialist country under the rule of law, everyone is equal before the law" and no matter how strong a person's political power may be, the Legal Daily commentary said.

Bo's trial was acknowledged as notable for at least one thing -- the court took the unprecedented step of posting some live updates of his trial on Sina Weibo, one of China's Twitter-like microblogs, the BBC reported.

The updates showed Bo putting up a vigorous defense. making lengthy comments denying his guilt and cross-examining one of the witnesses.

However, foreign reporters weren't allowed in the court and there were questions over how much editorial control there was over live updates, the BBC said.

"The openness shown by the Bo trial has exceeded public expectations," said Weibo user "Sanyan Dadi," a Liaoning-based journalist.

"The real-time Weibo broadcast by the Jinan court is a historic progress. It would be better if it could be used in ordinary cases, too," said Tang Xiaohu, a Hunan-based lawyer.

But some followers of the trial were concerned, the BBC report said.

By adopting this method of dissemination, [the authorities] managed to balance openness with control," Zhang Zhi'an, a journalism professor at Sun Yet-sen University in Guangzhou, said.

"They have mounted a display of openness while keeping risks under control in a highly skillful manner," he wrote.

The BBC reported Liu Wanqiang, a Guangxi-based journalist for the semi-official China News Service, saying "the selective postings can only show selective openness and selective justice, and cannot be said to represent the truth."

Despite the Communist Party being pleased with its efforts to show the even-handedness of its judicial system, their work may not be finished.

Western media agencies are reporting that Bo may appeal his conviction and sentence.

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