Disgraced politician’s day in court fails to transpire as authorities move to silence Zhu Ruifeng, writes Patrick Boehler
Had a report by the Beijing-loyal Hong Kong daily Ta Kung Pao from last week been proven right, today would have been disgraced Chinese Communist Party leader Bo Xilai’s first day in court.
The next best date for the trial that will conclude the country’s biggest political upheaval since the Tian’anmen protests in 1989, will be March, the nationalistic Global Times said in its English edition, citing “a source close to the country’s top judicial body.”
Elsewhere in remote Guizhou, where the trial of the former Chongqing Party Secretary, minister of commerce and son of revolutionary hero Bo Yibo, was supposed to be held, officials assured reporters that they would be notified three days in advance – that is if the trial will be held in public.
Bo’s trial will hence come after the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, is scheduled to approve Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping’s succession to Hu Jintao as head of state, and Li Keqiang’s succession of Wen Jiabao as prime minister in March. Rumours of resistance against the fall of Bo had caused unexplained delays to the 18th Party Congress last autumn, which initiated the leadership transition.
Meanwhile in Chongqing, the provincial equivalent of the National People’s Congress, is holding its first post-Bo plenum. Huang Qifan, who sat next to Bo at his last press conference in March last year, told journalists on Saturday that the city was “making efforts to eliminate the severe impact” of the Bo case.
Part of that impact was a window of opportunity for muckraking journalists to expose some of the tragedies of those who opposed or just got in Bo’s way, allowing for unprecedented reports on arbitrary detention, torture, imperfect trials, colossal waste of state funds, insanity and riches amassed abroad.
Yesterday night, Chongqing authorities showed that window is slowly closing. Zhu Ruifeng, a Beijing-based blogger and freelance journalist, said he was paid a visit by Chongqing police in Beijing, who wanted to take him away even though they acted outside their jurisdiction. He agreed to report to a Beijing police station today.
After Bo’s downfall, ‘rogue’ journalist Zhu had exposed and caused the fall of 11 Chongqing officials and managers of state-run companies, who had been blackmailed by sex tapes showing them with mistresses paid for by a contractor.
His appeal for help was shared more than 5,000 times on weibo yesterday night. Around two in the morning, he issued a statement that the country’s leading advocates for legal reform will be representing his interests if he were to be disappeared.
He Weifang, an outspoken law professor at Peking University, agreed to serve as the head of his legal defence team, which also includes legal activist Teng Biao and activist lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who defended Ai Weiwei in his recent tax dispute. Leading media scholar Zhan Jiang has agreed to act as a link to his family and investigative journalist Wang Keqin has agreed to speak for him to the media, if indeed he were to “be disappeared.”
As of 4pm Zhu is still at the Dewai police station, where he has been giving a statement for the last five hours. “This situation is unusual,” Wang Keqin told me. As the leadership transition and the Bo incident are coming to an end, a tougher stance against whistleblowers seems to have returned to Chongqing.