Bo trial combines old and new in Chinese law

By Kelly Olsen ,AFP

BEIJING — The corruption trial of China’s onetime political superstar Bo Xilai combines elements of unusual openness with traditional controls rooted deep in the one-party state and the country’s long history, analysts say. Bo, who held sway over nearly 30 million people as the top Communist in the megacity of Chongqing before his spectacular fall, faces charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in a scandal that has rocked the ruling party. It is not the first time the all-powerful Communist Party has had to air its dirty laundry in public, but the level of openness in the deliberations has caught many by surprise. “Of course this is not real justice that is being played out,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This is political theatre.” Unlike previous high-profile trials, the court is providing regular but delayed transcripts on a verified social media account, offering observers a window on proceedings often seen through the distorted lens of limited state media coverage. They have also given Bo himself an outlet for the details of his defense to reach a wide audience. “No one expected that Bo Xilai would be given that amount of freedom to defend himself,” Bequelin told AFP. “Nonetheless the legal parts have been surprisingly good because there is a real legal process taking place there, at least in the courtroom, even though the outcome has already been decided and predetermined.” The approach has both advantages and risks for China’s rulers, he added.

“Having a good trial like this, something that really looks like a real trial, will help confer legitimacy to the outcome and that’s in the interest of the Party,” he said. “The cost is that it raises the expectations of the public in terms of administration of justice. Because it gives people ideas, first of all about the virtues of defense rights.” Margaret Lewis, a professor at Seton Hall Law School in the United States, contrasted Bo’s trial with those of two other once high-flying officials — Chen Liangyu, a former party secretary for Shanghai and Chen Xitong, mayor of Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen massacre — who were convicted of corruption-related charges.