Rule of law in China the silent victim at Bo Xilai wife’s trial
BEIJING, (Reuters) - Gu Kailai, the wife of deposed Chinese leader Bo Xilai and a career lawyer, faces possible execution for murder at the hands of a swift, unblinking justice system that she once championed.
Gu, who practised commercial law and wrote once a book about her experiences of both the Chinese and U.S. legal systems, will be at the centre of highly politicised trial this month in which rule of law is unlikely to attract more than token attention.
Legal experts and activists expect her to receive the kind of rapid guilty verdict handed down in almost all Chinese criminal trials – the kind Gu once compared favourably to U.S. legal practice where she felt the guilty risked going free on legal technicalities.
“As long as it is known that you, John Doe, killed someone, you will be arrested, tried and shot to death,” Gu wrote of Chinese criminal justice in her 1998 book.
Chinese law, she explained, did “not mince words”.
Now Gu finds herself on the other side of Chinese law in a case that experts say is unlikely even to become a rallying point for China’s marginalised supporters of judicial reform.
“It simply cuts too close to core issues of internal (Communist) Party politics and the handover of power,” said Carl Minzner, a Chinese law expert at New York’s Fordham University School of Law, casting Gu’s trial as part of a political campaign against her husband, once seen as a candidate to join China’s next top leadership team to be unveiled late this year.
“These are the very last areas we should expect any willingness (from Beijing) to play by legal norms.”
China has long had an official agenda of enforcing rule of law and its case against Gu has drawn global interest, not only because of the political overtones but because the victim, former Bo family friend Neil Heywood, is British and Frenchman Patrick Devillers is a potential witness.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has demanded Beijing live up to its judicial rhetoric in the Gu case, calling in April for “a full investigation that observes due process, is free from political interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case, and ensures that justice is done”.
‘AN OBVIOUS FARCE’
But experts say London is bound to be disappointed. They point out that the signs so far are that the trial against Gu and her alleged accomplice, family aide Zhang Xiaojun, will be a formality with only the severity of the sentence in any doubt – execution or a long jail term.
Gu will not have access to her family lawyer, Shen Zhigeng, who has revealed that other legal counsel have been assigned to her case. China’s official Xinhua news agency has already said the evidence against Gu will be “irrefutable and substantial” when the case goes to court, likely next week.
“It makes the case a transparent sham,” said Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese law at New York University. “If you forbid people to have the best lawyer they can and you assign lawyers who you control…it renders the whole thing an obvious farce.”
Both Bo, the ousted Chongqing party chief, and Gu have been in detention since Beijing first announced the murder allegation against Gu and the unspecified “disciplinary violations” against Bo in April. At the time, Bo was stripped of all party positions. Neither he nor his wife has been able to publicly comment on the allegations.