The People’s Republic of China has recently concluded two closely-watched trials of well-known citizens. Gu Kailai, the so-called ‘red queen’ and wife of Bo Xilai, was given a suspended death sentence for the premeditated murder of British businessman, Neil Heywood. Wang Lijun, former Chongqing chief-of-police, and principal enforcer for Bo Xilai’s repressive policies, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for covering up the murder of Neil Heywood, and for later fleeing Chongqing and seeking political asylum in the United States.
Whether or not the pronounced sentences are just is impossible to assess. For the courts involved participated in political show trials that mocked any notion of the rule of law. Although the government announced that at least parts of both trials would be open to the public, only a small number of hand-picked observers were allowed inside either courtroom. The trials provided no clear explanation as to why Gu decided to murder Neil Heywood or why Wang initially helped her to cover up the murder and then later decided to flee to the U.S. consulate in fear of his life. Neither court heard any reference as to the role played by Bo Xilai with respect to the murder or the cover-up. The 800 pound gorilla that over-shadowed both cases, was simply ignored as non-existent.
“To most Chinese legal analysts, the circumstances and sentences in the Gu and Wang trials make clear that the entire process is part of a political show that will culminate in the carefully scripted eventual sentencing of Mr. Bo himself. ’The leadership is in the midst of a political faction fight. The entire legitimacy of the system is crumbling’, say Pu Zhiqiang, a high-profile legal activist who regularly defends political prisoners in China. ‘I would call these trials a cover-up of the truth, rather than trials based on the facts.’” Jamil Anderlini, ‘Wang and Gu trials dash hopes for legal reform’, Financial Times, September 25, 2012