Wife of China’s Bo Xilai Goes on Trial for Murder
Hefei, China. The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai went on trial on Thursday, accused of murdering a British businessman in a case that has rocked the Communist party as it gears up for a leadership change.
Gu Kailai is all but certain to be found guilty in the trial, which analysts say is an attempt to draw a line under a scandal that has brought down her husband and exposed deep divisions among China’s leaders.
State news agency Xinhua has said there is “irrefutable and substantial” evidence that she along with family aide and codefendant Zhang Xiaojun poisoned Neil Heywood, a Briton who was found dead in the southwestern city of Chongqing.
In a sign of the huge sensitivity of the case, no foreign media have been allowed into the Hefei Intermediate Court in eastern China where Gu is being tried.
Scores of uniformed and plainclothes police were stationed outside the court, where a female protester was seen being dragged away and thrown into a police vehicle as the hearing got under way.
Two dark-suited British diplomats, who were allowed access to the hearing in a rare concession to London, were seen entering early Thursday, but there was no sign of Heywood’s relatives.
Gu’s trial has drawn comparisons with that of Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s widow Jiang Qing, who along with the three other members of the “Gang of Four” was convicted for fomenting the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.
Jiang was sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life in prison, as is often the case for high-profile defendants in China.
Gu, a former international lawyer, saw her life of wealth and privilege end abruptly when she was accused earlier this year of poisoning Heywood.
The scandal ended the political career of her husband Bo, a high-flying but divisive Communist official known for his aggressive crackdown on organized crime and for a Maoist-style “red revival” campaign that alienated party moderates.
None of China’s main state-run newspapers covered the trial on Thursday and posts on the country’s popular microblogging sites — many of them complaining about the lack of transparency surrounding the trial — were rapidly deleted.
Internet searches for the names of Gu and Bo have been blocked for months under China’s rigorous online censorship system.
Some analysts believe that Gu will bear the harsher consequences while Bo, who has been placed under investigation for corruption, will be dealt with more lightly or after the leadership transition this autumn.
“The fact that they are putting her to trial means the top leadership has reached some kind of basic agreement,” said Steve Tsang, a professor and director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.
“They are really focusing on getting Gu Kailai to pay. My bet is that Bo will get off relatively lightly and they are going to park Bo Xilai’s case until after the succession, the party Congress.”
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post daily said this week that Gu had confessed to the murder and to “economic crimes,” although she is charged only with intentional homicide.
Xinhua said she had “economic conflicts” with Heywood and feared for the safety of her son Bo Guagua, 24, who is believed to be in the United States where he recently completed a master’s degree.
The younger Bo told CNN this week he had submitted a witness statement to his mother’s defence team, and that he believes the “facts will speak for themselves” in the case.
Though Gu faces possible execution, legal experts say she is likely to be given a commuted death sentence that translates into 10 to 15 years in prison, with her concern for her son’s safety providing a mitigating circumstance.
Given her elite stature — her father was a renowned Communist general — she may also enjoy comfortable imprisonment conditions.