Bo Xilai

Creature comforts inside prison for corrupt officials

Bo Xilai will probably serve his life sentence at Qincheng jail – and in relative luxury

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 4:32am

Former Politburo member Bo Xilai will likely enjoy relatively luxurious treatment at a prison where many former political elites are serving time, but he might also run into the former aide who triggered his downfall.

The Jinan Intermediate People's Court, where Bo was tried, did not announce where he would be serving the life sentenced handed to him on Sunday, but many believe it is the Soviet-style Qincheng Prison on the outskirts of Beijing.

The prison, administered by the Ministry of Public Security, has held many senior officials behind its bars over the years.

Bo's father, party elder Bo Yibo , was jailed in Qincheng after being branded a "counter-revolutionary" in the Cultural Revolution. A more notorious inmate was Jiang Qing , widow of Mao Zedong .

Most notably for Bo, his one-time right-hand man, former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun , started his 15-year jail term in Qincheng last year. Wang's attempted defection at the US consulate in Chengdu sparked China's worst political crisis in decades and lead to Bo's downfall.

The South China Morning Post reported earlier that Wang's supporters from Chongqing and his hometown in Liaoning province had delivered dishes of dumplings to the prison for Wang at Lunar New Year in February.

But Bo is unlikely to encounter his wife, Gu Kailai , who is thought to be serving a suspended death sentence in Yancheng Prison in Hebei for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

It is estimated that as many as 100 officials above vice-ministerial level have served time in Qincheng over the past decade. Among them are former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu , who was jailed for 18 years for corruption in 2008.

Others included former Beijing deputy mayor Liu Zhihua , who was given a suspended death sentence in 2009 for receiving bribes worth almost 7 million yuan; and former Sinopec Corporation chairman Chen Tonghai , who given a suspended death sentence in 2009. The most recent official sent there was former railways minister Liu Zhijun , who was also handed a suspended death sentence for graft in July.

While former top politicians enjoy a fairly comfortable life inside Qincheng, ordinary prisoners have complained about harsh conditions including basic food such as corn buns and eggplant.

He Dianhui , a former director of the prison, told mainland media that high-ranking prisoners usually enjoyed milk for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, they have two Chinese dishes, a bowl of soup and an apple. The food is bought from kitchens that cook for senior officials, and is sometimes prepared by chefs at the five-star Beijing Hotel, where late US president Richard Nixon stayed in 1972.

These first-class prisoners have their own 250 sq ft cells with an attached washroom, and can read newspapers and watch television from 7pm to 9pm.

Unlike ordinary prisoners, they do not wear prison clothing. Chen Liangyu reportedly wears a Western-style suit without tie inside the prison, and spends one hour each day practising Tai Chi.

The reputed luxury treatment has trigged online ridicule.

"Is it really a prison, or a rehabilitation centre?" asked a microblogger. "How can these corrupt officials be treated far better than ordinary people who have committed no crimes?"

Another microblog post said "their official privileges have been extended even to prison".

Qincheng prison was built in 1958 with aid from the former Soviet Union. It is the only prison in China not administered by the Ministry of Justice.

The prison was originally built to house Kuomintang war criminals, and later held cadres purged in the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976.

One purged cadre was the former head of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, Feng Jiping , who ironically oversaw the prison's construction.

"If only I had known that one day I would be jailed here, I would have built it better," Feng was quoted by mainland media as saying.