Bo Xilai trial was a satire, but still helped to further rule of law in China
In an interview, He Weifang, one of China’s most pre-eminent advocates of the rule of law and judicial independence, says the trial of former politburo member Bo Xilai was a satire – but it still helped to advance rule of law in China.
He Weifang, a professor of law at Peking University, is one of China’s most pre-eminent advocates of the rule of law and judicial independence. He gave this interview to the Global Viewpoint Network as the Bo Xilai trial concluded on Monday, Aug. 26.Skip to next paragraph
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GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: You once fought organized crime in Chongqing [where Bo Xilai was Community Party chief] and wrote “An Open Letter to the Legal Field in Chongqing” at a time when the administration of justice was entirely reduced to a tool for persecution. Now, the mastermind behind the scenes of the incidents in Chongqing’s crackdown, Bo Xilai, is on trial. Do you feel that this counts as justice being upheld?
HE WEIFANG: In the several years of the so-called “crackdown on crime,” Chongqing’s authorities definitely instigated many activities that trampled on the rule of law, deprived the people of their wealth, and extracted forced confessions on a large scale. From Chongqing’s official media reports at that time, Bo Xilai was the guiding force behind this wave of activities. That is to say, he was the person who was chiefly responsible for the many false and unjust cases that occurred in Chongqing.
In this trial, if the prosecution had also pursued suspected criminal activities by the defendant, including abuse of power and obstruction of justice while in Chongqing in addition to the cover-up of a homicide by Gu Kailai [Bo's second wife], then this case would have even greater significance. It could even open a door for overturning those cases of injustice in Chongqing.
During the trial of this case, Bo Xilai presented his own defense in court during the argument phase by saying, “In speaking my mind in court, I hope that the public prosecutor does not take this for a malicious act or a withdrawal of my confession. To prevent wrongful convictions, China established a system of mutual restraint among public security agencies, prosecutorial entities, and the courts. In particular, defense counsel is included in the system of mutual restraint between prosecutorial entities and the courts in order to prevent wrongful convictions. A huge number of wrongful convictions would result if only the prosecutorial entities’ one-sided arguments are heard.”
He can actually describe the reasoning for this law clearly and rationally at a time when he himself has become the accused. Is this a satire?
GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: It appears that the court’s trial against Bo Xilai over these past few days has generally proceeded in strict accordance with legal procedures. Do you think this is an improvement? Or do you feel there are still shortcomings?
HE WEIFANG: It is heartening that “an eye for an eye” does not exist in the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, which has displayed very good neutrality. From the court’s official Weibo [Chinese microblogging site] postings of the trial’s procedures, the public prosecutor and defense counsel have been very professional, and in particular, the defendant’s right to speak in his own defense has been protected to a considerable degree. Although there are still obvious restrictions on the freedom of the public and the media to attend the trial, the most surprising fact was that the court displayed the general circumstances of the hearing via Weibo.
The number of characters and the duration of the hearing show that there has been some screening, but it seems that most of the utterances in court have been published. This is unprecedented in terms of similar cases. Of course, it won’t have been the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court’s own decision to be this open. We currently cannot determine where the authority for this decision came from and what its original intent was.
There are still some drawbacks to the hearing in terms of not being able to be present in the court in person, and only observing the hearing from the information posted to Weibo by the court. We already mentioned that the scope of crimes indicted by the Procuratorate of Jinan was constrained by the Commission for Discipline Inspection. This scope of prosecution and trial was not demarcated from strict legal criteria. This is the first drawback.
Second, the public prosecutor and the collegiate bench judges have not been able to indict and prosecute entirely in strict accordance with purely legal criteria, so when circumstances and issues arose during the court’s depositions and arguments that should have been caught, the judges and public prosecutor did not investigate them thoroughly.