Farce as trial
Where’s that smuggled-tapes book?” we mumbled, watching television footage of China’s sensational trial filter in. In a Hefei courtroom stood one of China’s high profile lawyers and businesswomen: 54-year-old Gu Kailai.
Evidence against her for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood is irrefutable, Xinhua state news agency insisted before the trial began—and ended—Aug. 9. Gu didn’t have her own lawyers. International observers and media were barred.
What do Filipinos make of that? We’ve just had start-to-finish coverage of a chief justice’s impeachment trial. Judicial and Bar Council debates were televised.
Xinhua reveals what it chooses: Gu and Heywood quarreled over a land deal. She felt Heywood threatened the safety of her son, a Harvard University student. Gu admitted to pouring cyanide into a tipsy Heywood while she was “mentally distraught.”
Officials blacked out mention of Gu as wife of Bo Xilai, once Communist party chief party chief in Chongqing. Always impeccably suited, 64-year-old Bo was a sure bet to join China’s Politburo’s once-in-a-decade changing of the guard this year.
Bo has been detained since April, stripped of all titles. It’s a “shut-and-shut showcase of political engineering,” Evan Osnos of New Yorker writes in “A Rashomon Version.” “Blame will be shifted to those with less political clout—namely (Heywood) and the police officer who ratted them out.”
“The trial conspicuously limited any connections between (Bo) and the murder. In the end, Party leaders decided it was too damaging to let one of their own go down so hard,” Osnos adds. Bo faces “discipline violations.” Were there an Olympic event for vaulting over political hazards, Bo cleared the first hurdle—with room to spare.
Earlier hopes for China judicial reforms included a 1990 promise to “rule the country according to law.” In 2003, Beijing abolished “custody and repatriation.” Local officials used this mode of arbitrary detention to sweep homeless and other “undesirables” from the streets.
The “Gu & Bo” case reiterates that China’s courts answer solely to the Party. The rights of defendants are irrelevant. Historically, judges never ruled in favor of dissidents. “All animals are equal,” George Orwell said of dictatorship judicial mindsets. “But some animals are more equal than others.”
A 2012 report into China’s legal system, delivered at this year’s annual parliamentary session, flatly asserts: “The most important task for legal workers is to “unite around implementation of the party and the state’s policies and carry out legislative work according to major policy arrangements.”
Without justice, a country corrodes from within, says the book, “Prisoner of State” which appeared on May 2009 in Hong Kong. It is based on 30 tapes secretly smuggled to Hong Kong by former Premier Zhao Zhiyang. A member of the Communist Party’s Politburo’s Standing Committee, Zhao was thrust into house arrest for sympathizing with Tiannamen demonstrators. He died in 2005.
Is the itch to compare today’s “Gu & Bo” trial with the 1981 crackdown on the “Gang of Four valid?
Four Chinese officials were convicted for “treasonous excesses” during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76 ). The most prominent was Jiang Qing, the last wife of Mao Zedong. Her co-convicts were Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. The last two were Shanghai party leaders. “The East Wind shall prevail over the west wind” was their jingju or opera. Their control over Communist Party power levers triggered 10 years of “Cultural Revolution” turmoil.
A month after Mao’s death, an “8341 unit went to Madam Mao’s residence at No. 17 Fisherman’s Terrace and arrested her.” Others were handcuffed as they attended an emergency session of the Politburo at the Great Hall of the People. The Gang of Four underwent a 1981 show trial on usurpation of state power and crimes, e.g. persecution of some 750,000 people, 34,375 of whom died. Official records of the trial were never released.
At turns defiant or tearful, Jiang Qing protested. They only obeyed Mao’s orders—an excuse that the 1945 to 1946 Nurememberg trial of Nazi war criminals spurned. Zhang refused to admit any guilt. But Yao and Wang “confessed.”
Jiang Qing and Zhang received death sentences, commuted to life imprisonment. “She didn’t move fast enough,” then Philipppine First Lady Imelda Marcos said of Jiang Qing, who committed suicide in 1991. Wang and Yao were later released. All Gang of Four members have since died.
Flawed trials recall that the high priest Caiphas told the Sanhedrin: “It is expedient that one man die to save the nation.” That led to the arrest of Jesus of Nazareth—and triggered a still ongoing debate on whether or not the Galilean got a fair trial.
“The court may not alertly and intelligently hear the testimony against the accused during the hours of darkness,” the Talmud states. Thus, capital crime charges and trial must be lodged in broad daylight, under Jewish criminal law. Jesus’ arrest took place between one and two o’clock at night. Trials before Annas and Caiaphas were also held in darkness.
Immediate decisions are proscribed. “Eat like food, drink like wines, sleep well. Return and hear the testimony again. Only then, shall you render a vote.” Voting was to start from the youngest. That way, they wouldn’t be intimidated by the older voters.
Act II of the “Gu & Bo” operetta is predictable. As a Chinese proverb says: “When the emperor errs, all the people suffer.”
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