China: Lawyer faces death sentence from courts where guilty verdict rules
Gu KAILAI, the wife of deposed Chinese leader Bo Xilai and a career lawyer, faces a possible death sentence for murder next week at the hands of a swift, unblinking justice system that she once championed.
Gu, who practised commercial law and wrote a book about her experiences of both the Chinese and US legal systems, will be at the centre of a highly politicised trial 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 favourably compared 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 for China’s marginalised supporters of judicial reform.
“It simply cuts too close to core issues of internal [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.”
China has long had an official agenda of enforcing 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”.
But experts say Britain 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, will be a formality, with only the severity of the sentence in any doubt – execution or a long jail term.
China’s official Xinhua news agency has already said the evidence against Gu will be “irrefutable and substantial” when the case goes to court, likely to be next week.
Both Bo, the ousted Chongqing party chief, 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.
As ever in China, there is a pithy phrase to sum up Chinese justice. “You will have heard the saying ‘The police cooks the food, the prosecutor serves it and the court eats it’,” said Eva Pils, a law expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
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