Bo Xilai

Bo Xilai trial is a public show but within bounds, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 5:40am

The unusual decision to run an official live blog of Bo Xilai's trial has given the former Chongqing party boss the chance to mount his feisty defence in public - but analysts believe Bo is defending himself within limits agreed by the authorities.

The Communist Party is also using the blog and Bo's defence to boost its image by trumpeting its transparency, they say.

However, the analysts say that despite the promising signs, the court in Jinan is fundamentally playing the traditional role of a mainland court in a politically charged trial: that of a political stage, rather than an independent organ of the judiciary.

"This [the court's Weibo microblog] appears to be an unusual attempt by the new leadership to promote transparency and grant the public access to the highly-watched case," said Zhang Sizhi , a leading lawyer who defended Mao Zedong 's wife Jiang Qing in the famous 1980-81 trial of the Gang of Four.

"However, all the noises made are nothing more than a political show that is designed to boost the new leadership's image at home and abroad, rather than the promotion of the rule of law," Zhang said.

Microblog posts published by the court since the case paint a picture of a defiant Bo, eager to overturn his previous confessions and deny most of the charges against him; a stark contrast to the meek performance of defendants in most cases, including fallen politicians Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu who accepted all charges against them.

Xigen Li, an associate professor of media and communication at the City University of Hong Kong, said live-blogging a trial did not offer the same level of transparency as televising it live. A live broadcast would be impossible in a trial of such importance to the party and the government, Li said.

"The authorities are still concerned about anything going wrong if the trial is broadcast live on television," Li said.

Zhang said the court's microblog updates were selective and restricted, rather than being a genuine real-time representation of what was happening in the trial.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in England, said the verdict and sentence would have to be approved by the top leadership in Beijing, as it was much too important to be left to the judges.

Defiant as Bo may seem, Tsang says his defence remains within the official limits.

For example, Bo is challenging the evidence submitted against him but is not questioning why he is on trial, which is a political rather than a judicial matter.

"By avoiding political defiance, he is doing what is politically tolerable for the leadership, which is using this to showcase 'rule of law' - not realising that to the rest of the world this makes a mockery of the rule of law," Tsang said.

"Bo can afford to show such defiance as he knows the verdict cannot be changed without the Politburo Standing Committee meeting to discuss it. Hence his limited defiance."

Li said the question of whether there had been any deal between Bo and the prosecutors was difficult to judge, yet it was clear that each party would take the opportunity to achieve its own goals.

"For Bo, this is probably the last show of the century," Li said. "Bo needs to do everything possible as he is allowed to defend himself. For the prosecutors, they would take the opportunity to present an image of confident and fair authority while reducing the damage to the party and the government as the case involves scandals around high-ranking party officials."