Mon, Aug 06, 2012 - Page 9 News List

China’s rule of law — the
real victim at Gu Kailai’s trial

Despite simmering hopes, legal reform has remained as elusive as ever

By Michael Martina and Sui-Lee Wee  /  Reuters, BEIJING

Illustration: Yusha

Gu Kailai (谷開來), the wife of deposed Chongqing Chinese Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) and a career lawyer, faces possible execution for murder at the hands of a swift, unblinking justice system that she once championed.

Gu, who practiced commercial law and once wrote a book about her experiences of both the Chinese and US legal systems, will be at the center of a highly politicized trial this month in which rule of law is unlikely to attract more than token attention.

Legal experts and activists expect her to receive the kind of rapid guilty verdict handed down in almost all Chinese criminal trials — the kind Gu once compared favorably to US legal practice where she felt the guilty risked going free on legal technicalities.

“As long as it is known that you, John Doe, killed someone, you will be arrested, tried and shot to death,” Gu wrote of Chinese criminal justice in her 1998 book.

Chinese law, she explained, did “not mince words.”

Now Gu finds herself on the other side of Chinese law in a case that experts say is unlikely to become a rallying point even for China’s marginalized supporters of judicial reform.

“It simply cuts too close to core issues of internal [Chinese Communist] Party politics and the handover of power,” said Carl Minzner, a Chinese law expert at New York’s Fordham University School of Law, casting Gu’s trial as part of a political campaign against her husband, once seen as a candidate to join China’s next top leadership team to be unveiled late this year.

“These are the very last areas we should expect any willingness [from Beijing] to play by legal norms,” Minzner said.

China has long had an official agenda of enforcing the rule of law and its case against Gu has drawn global interest, not only because of the political overtones, but because the victim, former Bo family friend Neil Heywood, is British and Frenchman Patrick Devillers is a potential witness.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has demanded Beijing live up to its judicial rhetoric in the Gu case, calling in April for “a full investigation that observes due process, is free from political interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case and ensures that justice is done.”

However, experts say London is bound to be disappointed. They point out that the signs so far are that the trial against Gu and her alleged accomplice, family aide Zhang Xiaojun (張曉軍), will be a formality with only the severity of the sentence in any doubt — execution or a long jail term.

Gu will not have access to her family lawyer, Shen Zhigeng (沈志耕), who has revealed that other legal counsel have been assigned to her case. Xinhua news agency has already said the evidence against Gu will be “irrefutable and substantial” when the case goes to court, likely this week.

“It makes the case a transparent sham,” said Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese law at New York University. “If you forbid people to have the best lawyer they can and you assign lawyers who you control … it renders the whole thing an obvious farce.”

Both Bo and Gu have been in detention since Beijing first announced the murder allegation against Gu and the unspecified “disciplinary violations” against Bo in April. At the time, Bo was stripped of all party positions. Neither he nor his wife has been able to publicly comment on the allegations.

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