Limited airing for Bo in political stagecraft
IN THE weeks before fallen Communist Party star Bo Xilai went on trial, senior officials from the powerful party investigation agency told him about two officials who had been tried earlier on somewhat-similar charges, Bo said in court.
One, a former vice-governor of Anhui province, was sentenced to death and executed in 2004 for taking bribes and stealing US$1.6 million. The other, a former railway minister, received a suspended death sentence - essentially, life in prison - last month for taking US$10.6 million (S$13.6 million) in bribes.
According to two people briefed on the proceedings, Bo told the court in a 10-minute speech on Friday that the senior officials' point was that the party could mete out any punishment it chose, and that Bo's fate rested on whether he decided to cooperate during his own trial.
Bo's speech and some other instances in which he railed against threats and hardships during his 17 months in captivity have not appeared in the torrent of court transcripts released publicly since the trial began on Thursday.
Instead, those transcripts showed Bo cross-examining witnesses, ridiculing the testimony of his wife and former colleagues, and seemingly free to play his part as defendant however he chooses.
Despite the fact that the party has allowed millions of Chinese citizens to witness much of Bo's performance through a running court microblog, the trial remains political stagecraft, fashioned around Bo's combative character, analysts said.
The spectacle, they added, is an effort by the party to convince his elite party allies and ordinary supporters that Bo had his say in court, and that the long prison sentence he is expected to get is based on evidence of crimes committed, not political payback.
The state media highlights daily the evidence presented against Bo, while officials have limited his airtime in court and in the transcripts to help maintain control.
The delays in posting the transcripts lengthened as the trial went on, and yesterday's posting of the prosecutor's address was taken down within minutes of being published.
It was re-posted and taken down again, before being re-published once more with one section deleted.
In it, Bo had claimed to have been acting on orders from his "superiors" when he obtained a fake medical certificate about Wang Lijun, his police chief and right-hand man in Chongqing, who had fled to a United States consulate.
While the multimedia gambit may have won Bo some additional sympathy and exposed cracks in the prosecution's case, the legal parrying between the defendant and his accusers has also lent credibility to the political theatre.
Bo's most loyal supporters - relatives who are watching the trial first-hand - seem appeased simply that he has been allowed to defend himself in court.
"The family is relatively satisfied, because he has been given ample opportunity to speak," a family associate said.