By John Ruwitch
HEFEI, China Aug 9 (Reuters) – China’s most politically
sensitive trial in three decades was held behind closed doors on
Thursday as police dragged two protesters away from the
courthouse where the wife of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai is
expected to be convicted of murder.
The two Bo supporters were dragged kicking and yelling into
an unmarked car after they had appeared outside the courthouse
in eastern Hefei city, singing patriotic songs that were the
trademark of Bo’s populist leadership style and condemning the
trial as a sham.
“I don’t believe it. This case was decided well in advance,”
Hu Jiye, a middle-aged man wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap,
told foreign reporters at the rear of the court building, which
was cordoned off by dozens of police standing in heavy rain.
Hu and his friend were then shoved by plainclothed police
into a car. His companion, also a middle-aged man, struggled,
yelling “Why are you taking me? Why are you taking me?”
The trial of Gu Kailai is seen by many Chinese as part of a
push against her husband Bo, an ambitious populist who made
powerful enemies as he campaigned to join the next generation of
top central leaders.
Bo was formerly considered a contender for the inner sanctum
of power – the party’s Politburo Standing Committee – in a
once-in-a-decade leadership transition that is currently
underway. The new leadership is expected to be unveiled in
Gu and her co-accused, a family aide, are charged with
poisoning Briton Neil Heywood last year in a case that has
rocked the Communist Party leadership.
A Hefei official had told reporters the hearing was likely
to end at around 11 a.m. (0300 GMT), when a court official would
give a statement. But, even four hours later, the trial was
still apparently on, with no one leaving the courtroom.
There was no word when the verdict or sentencing would be
announced with estimates ranging from a day or two to several
weeks, although most experts expect a quick conviction.
Entry to the courtroom was restricted but two British
diplomats were invited to be present because of the nationality
of the victim. Journalists were not being allowed in, and it
appeared any coverage would be only from state media outlets.
INTERNET CHATTER CENSORED
State censorship of Internet chatter on the trial was
swifter than normal on Thursday, with users of China’s popular
Twitter-like service Sina Weibo playing cat and mouse with
censors to discuss the case, using word play to to try and get
around the controls.
The British envoys, arriving in heavy rain at the
granite-and-glass courthouse, told a scrum of reporters outside
the building they would not discuss the case.
Gu, herself a career lawyer, was to be defended by a
state-appointed lawyer with meagre experience in criminal cases,
leaving little doubt she will be convicted.
The state has decided who will represent Gu, denying her the
use of a family lawyer – a move that has also prompted Gu’s
90-year-old mother, Fan Xiucheng, to recently complain to the
Justice Ministry, according to a source close to the family.
“The answer (from the ministry) was that the legal process
did not have to be fully carried out in this case and that Fan
should stop pestering them,” the source said.
The trial of Gu, glamorous daughter of the ruling Communist
Party aristocracy, is the most sensational since the conviction
of the Gang of Four more than 30 years ago for crimes during the
1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
But despite British calls for the case to be handled fairly
and to unearth the truth around Heywood’s death, her defence has
instead been entrusted to two provincial lawyers.
The two lawyers, Jiang Min and Zhou Yuhao, could not be
reached for comment but a search of public information shows the
more senior attorney, Jiang, is a specialist in financial cases
and that neither has any obvious connection to the Bo family.
A newspaper profile of Jiang from 2005, which was posted on
Jiang’s own website, quoted him as saying that he was “an expert
in financial law, who rarely conducts criminal defences”,
although he has represented some officials accused of corruption
in the more than 20 years he has been practising law.
Little is known of Gu’s other lawyer, Zhou, except that he,
like Jiang, is from Anhui province. Provincial capital Hefei is
a bustling city more than 1,000 km (650 miles) east of the scene
of the alleged crime – Chongqing, the vast municipality formerly
ruled by Bo.
Gu and family aide Zhang Xiaojun face the death penalty if
convicted of poisoning Heywood, a former family friend, last
November in a dispute that has not been spelt out in the very
little official information released on the case.
But many legal experts expect Gu will be convicted but only
sentenced to a lengthy jail term.
GREEDY WIFE OR PROTECTIVE MOTHER?
Police sources initially claimed Gu had poisoned Heywood in
a dispute over an illicit financial transaction she had wanted
him to help her complete, and they portrayed Gu as a greedy wife
who was translating her husband’s connections into dollars.
But when Gu was formally indicted, the official allegation
instead hinted at a personal motive, saying Heywood had made
unspecified threats against her son Bo Guagua, a factor that may
count as a mitigating circumstance and help Gu avoid execution.
The younger Bo, who is believed to be still in the United
States after graduating from Harvard this summer, told CNN in an
e-mail that he had submitted a witness statement to the court.
“I hope that my mother will have the opportunity to review
them,” he added. “I have faith that facts will speak for
themselves.” CNN said he did not elaborate.
The trial and sentencing of both Gu and Zhang are widely
seen as a prelude to a possible criminal prosecution of Bo, who
is being detained for violating party discipline – an accusation
that covers corruption, abuse of power and other misdeeds.
Bo, who was a favourite of party leftists by promoting
himself as a friend of the poor and an enemy of corruption, was
sacked as Chongqing party chief in March after his police chief,
Wang Lijun, identified Gu as a suspect in Heywood’s death.
On Thursday morning, there was no sign of Gu’s elderly
mother, nor of any members of Heywood’s family in or around the