Curious gather outside court

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2008, 12:00am

There was no word of Chen Liangyu's expected court appearance in Tianjin's newspapers yesterday, but that did not stop a crowd of residents forming near a city courthouse for a glimpse of Shanghai's disgraced former Communist Party boss.

More than 100 people looked on in the morning as a fleet of unmarked cars and police vehicles escorted a white minivan to the Tianjin No2 Intermediate People's Court around 11.30am.

Traffic police had cleared the road long before the fleet arrived, and dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers stood by the roadside, urging people to stay away.

The fleet left the court at about 12.30pm and returned with seemingly tighter security about 20 minutes later.

Chen was due to appear in court at 1.30pm. Despite the local news blackout, many residents were still well informed about the event.

Zhou Zuojin , 66, arrived at the court around 9.30am and stayed until the fleet left in the afternoon.

He said he had learned about the trial from Guangdong television.

'There were news updates at the bottom of the screen while I watched a drama, and I thought I should be here since nothing this big has ever happened in Tianjin in my memory,' he said. About 40 minutes after Chen's scheduled appearance, a police radio crackled with the words 'ready to leave'. The fleet left the courthouse at about 3pm , as word spread throughout the crowd that Chen was given an 18-year sentence.

The outlines of four or five people were visible through the minivan's black windows.

Pointing to the Tianjin Prosecutor's Office next door to the court, a food store owner said she did not believe the sentence meant anything.

'How can you trust the judicial system? Li Baojin used to be the one who put people in jail, but he, in fact, was more corrupt than anyone he had ever prosecuted,' she said.

Li was a former Tianjin procurator general sentenced to death last year for corruption.