The much-anticipated trial opened Thursday under tight security at the intermediate court in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province. Police barricaded the street leading to the courthouse, turning back all cars and buses. And the courthouse itself was ringed by police standing every few feet, and shoulder to shoulder up the main steps. A throng of journalists and onlookers was kept outside in a driving rainstorm. Around 9 a.m., two apparent supporters of Bo were quickly hustled away by police when they began shouting slogans.
Gu and a household aide, Zhang Xiaojun, have been charged with murder in the poisoning death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, with whom Gu allegedly had a business dispute. Bo has not been charged with any crime but was removed from all his party posts in the spring for unspecified “discipline violations.”
Gu’s conviction is considered a foregone conclusion in China, where the police, courts and prosecutors operate under the party’s tight control and largely according to script. But the evidence presented in court, any witnesses allowed to speak and the severity of the eventual sentence that Gu receives will all signal how the party intends to handle Bo.
Bo, the charismatic son of a Mao-era revolutionary hero, is still thought to command a following in China, particularly among the “new leftists” disenchanted with the country’s growing income disparity and the loss of socialist ideals. Some analysts say that the party’s senior leaders, who are meeting now for their annual summer retreat at the Beidaihe seaside resort, remain deeply divided over what punishment Bo should face.
On the one hand, observers say, some want Bo not only stripped of his party positions but also jailed on criminal charges, to preclude any chance of a comeback by a figure who had become a danger because of his populist appeal. “He may come back to politics,” said Cheng Li, a China scholar with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It’s in everyone’s interest to punish Bo severely.”
But Bo is said to still have allies, who think he should face a milder internal party discipline, equivalent to a censure, particularly if there is no evidence that he had a hand in Heywood’s slaying or knew anything about it.
“It’s a question of how to settle this problem after ousting him,” said Bo Zhiyue, who is a senior researcher with the National University of Singapore and not related to Bo Xilai. “It’s not just him. He represents a trend of thought in society,” such as favoring a more equitable distribution of wealth. “A lot of senior party members agree with this idea. Bo Xilai still has a lot of political resources, like his personal relationships among the princelings and in the army. . . . He still has a lot of influence, and supporters in the party. So it will be hard to completely defeat him.”