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.
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The most obvious example occurred on the second day of the trial. The lawyer said, “Wang Lijun’s [police chief of Chongqing under Bo] testimony gave the sense that Kailai’s case of November 15th occurred because of the house in Nice and Neil [Heywood]’s threats, but in reality, this was not what happened. Neil had sent Bo Guagua a letter demanding 14 million pounds as a commission on a project. This was unrelated to the house in Nice.”Skip to next paragraph
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This is a tremendously important clue that may involve the Bo family’s other [alleged] financial crimes – what kind of a transaction could generate such an enormous amount in commission! – and may even involve the true motives behind Gu Kailai’s murder of Neil Heywood [British businessman]. It needed to be thoroughly investigated, but unfortunately, the public prosecutor let it pass.
Also, in the final stage of arguments, Bo Xilai explained that he had hit Wang Lijun – a slap or a punch – because of an improper relationship between Wang and Gu Kailai. Obviously, the court needs to expose exactly what relationship existed between them. If there was an improper relationship, how long did it last, and what kinds of business transactions occurred during that time? This may also be related [to] what actually transpired for Gu Kailai to have killed Neil Heywood. The court also did not pursue this.
Third, in this trial, Wang Lijun and several other witnesses went to the court in person to give testimony and were subjected to face-to-face questioning by the accused and his attorney. Compared to the Hefei trial of Gu Kailai and the Chengdu trial of Wang Lijun, this was a major bright point in the Jinan trial.
There were still some flaws, however. For example, most of the witnesses who should have appeared in court did not appear, and all of the witnesses who appeared in court have been witnesses for the prosecution.
Not one witness for the defense has appeared, and none of the written evidence laid out in court has been favorable to the accused.
We have cause to ask this: Before the trial, did the lawyers proceed with broad collection of evidence? Also, Bo Xilai clearly said in court that he twice applied for Gu Kailai to testify in court, but this was denied by the presiding judge because Article 188 of the Criminal Procedural Law stipulates that relatives cannot be forced to testify in court.
Only a video of Gu’s testimony was broadcast on site. However, the legal right protected by this regulation is the value of the ethical relationship between relatives. Since Gu had already agreed to testify via video, whether or not to appear in court was only a technical difference. Besides, the outcome of her not appearing in court was that there was no way to repeatedly confront the many things that touched upon the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Fourth, compared to the complexity of circumstances involved in this case, the duration of the entire trial is still too brief.
GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: As the most renowned legal scholar in China, do you think that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun’s trials symbolize the turning of a dark page in China’s history of administration of justice?
HE WEIFANG: The occurrence of the Chongqing incident last year was already a major event in the trend of China’s rule of law. The miscarriages of justice caused by the Chongqing crackdown on crime should be investigated. But although this trial has avoided doing so, at least Bo has been placed in the dock of the accused. His calls to request impartial proceedings have more impact and persuasiveness than those from other people in general.
GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: Do you think that the end to "Bo Xilai’s Chongqing Mode" will actually be significant as an example of the future of China’s rule of law? Or is this only a single case, and China’s rule of law will not see serious or profound improvements because of it?
HE WEIFANG: I can only say that after this trial, whether that whole “line, principle, and policy” convention associated with the Chongqing Model will be seriously reconsidered and be thoroughly overhauled is a specimen for testing the future of China’s rule of law and the trend in politics.
© 2013 Global Viewpoint Network, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.
[Editor's Note: The original headline of this piece mis-characterized the interviewee's point.]