Following Sunday’s harsher-than-expected verdict from a court in this city sentencing former Politburo member Bo Xilai to life in prison, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) has hailed the outcome as proving that “there are no special citizens under the law” in China.
On Monday, the CPC’s official Legal Daily newspaper said, “The case demonstrated that in China, a Socialist country under the rule of law, everyone is equal before the law, no matter how strong a person’s political power or how high the person’s position”.
Jiang Wen would disagree.
For exactly a decade now, she has been unsuccessfully seeking redress for the injustice meted out to her father by local officials in this province, who refused to compensate him after he suffered a debilitating injury while working for a provincial enterprise.
As Ms. Jiang began to navigate the famously opaque Chinese judicial system, she found herself caught in a maze of bureaucracy, corruption and official apathy. At one point, when she travelled to Beijing to petition higher authorities to have her case heard, she was tracked down by provincial officials, who had followed her all the way to her capital, and subsequently imprisoned her in an extrajudicial “black jail”.
Ms. Jiang (her first name has been changed to protect her identity) told her story to The Hindu speaking just a stone’s throw away from the sprawling court complex where Judge Wang Xuguang was sentencing Bo Xilai — and, at the same time, hailing the impartiality of China’s courts.
The cases of Bo and Ms. Jiang — as far as apart as they may be — sharply underscore the CPC’s continuing tight control over the courts system, despite significant advances in legal process over the past decade.
Bo’s five-day trial had all the trappings of a full-fledged trial: his lawyers poked holes in the prosecutors’ case, and Bo was even allowed to cross-examine key witnesses. The Legal Daily held up the case as a landmark “public trial showing procedural justice”.
Bo now appears likely to appeal the verdict. But, in truth, he never had a chance to make his case.
Chinese political analysts are aware his fate was all but sealed when the Party’s Politburo Standing Committee – its highest authority, which controls the government, military, internal security and the legal system – decided to oust him last year following the dramatic scandal surrounding the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, who was poisoned by Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai.
At all levels of government, from the Politburo to the provinces, the CPC maintains control over every branch. In Ms. Jiang’s case, her petition claims, some of the same officials who headed the labour arbitration bureau, which would decide her father’s fate, were tied to the very same company.
The absence of avenues to seek redress leads tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Chinese to petition higher authorities, either in provinces or in Beijing, estimates Yu Jianrong, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The petitioning system, a legacy from Imperial China, has, however, been seen by many scholars, such as Mr. Yu, as no longer fulfilling its function.
Local officials, like those who pursued and locked up Ms. Jiang, take any means necessary to prevent petitioners from reaching Beijing, as such cases will hurt their promotion prospects. Mr. Yu and others have pointed to the lack of independent courts as fuelling tens of thousands of protests — or “mass incidents”, as the Party says — at the grassroots every year.
On Sunday, Ms. Jiang tried to show up at the Jinan court just as the Bo Xilai verdict was set to be announced, in a desperate attempt to bring light to her case. She didn’t make it to the court: police roadblocks set up in the streets around the court complex cut off all public access to the court.
“For ordinary people like me,” Ms. Jiang said, “there is no justice”.