A People's Liberation Army veteran and legal expert has called for public courts martial of disgraced retired top general Xu Caihou and deputy logistics chief Gu Junshan to set a powerful precedent for speeding legal reform in the military.
Writing exclusively today in a Chinese-language article for the South China Morning Post online, Dr Zeng Zhiping said the Communist Party should use Xu's case to show its determination to improve the army's transparency and redouble its modernisation push.
Experts claimed the idea has garnered support from army officers - but they warned that under the current system it may be impossible, even after the trial, to disclose details due to political sensitivity.
Xu, a former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, is the most senior official in the armed forces to be brought down in the anti-corruption drive of President Xi Jinping . He was expelled from the party in last week for alleged corruption after he was accused of taking bribes and selling military promotions from 2004 until last year. Gu, a lieutenant general and a top ally of Xu, was charged with crimes including bribery and embezzlement in March. Both are expected to be brought before closed courts martial.
Zeng, a retired lieutenant colonel and military law expert at Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi , called for change.
He wrote: "The opening up of courts martial is a basic requirement for a modern and powerful army." Disclosing details of the cases would let the public see the details of their alleged crimes - but military secrets would stay classified. Public hearings would also give officers experience of military justice and help build respect for the army, he wrote.
"Opening up judicial proceedings has been an old principle to prevent abuse of power. The rejection of open courts martial is always a powerful way to excuse corrupt and ignorant [behaviour]."
Xu Guangyu , a retired major general, warned it would take time for the judicial system to evolve.
"The idea of increasing transparence in PLA courts martial is good, but these two cases should be handled within the existing legal system due to their seriousness and complexity," he said.
"I believe some details of the two cases will be disclosed later. Don't worry about the abuse of power in the hearings because many eyes are monitoring them [despite the trials being held behind closed doors]."
However, military observer Ni Lexiong said political considerations were central in not letting the cases of Xu and Gu be heard openly like the trial of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai who received a life sentence for graft.
"Bo was just a local official, but both Xu and Gu were top officials in the PLA. Public hearings will definitely expose more senior officials involved in their cases, which would totally ruin the PLA's image at home and overseas," Ni said.
The Guizhou Daily yesterday said party leaders should introduce ideological programmes to keep up military morale.