Authorities have taken great pains to give the impression that the trial will be conducted in a transparent, just manner. At the same time, there are clear signs of strict management by party officials fearful of losing control over the process. Bo’s relatives are bracing for a useless legal defense and guilty verdict, said a close associate of theirs who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
“They don’t have any illusions,” the friend said. “They know the decision will come down from the top of the party.”
Instead, the relatives spent recent days trying to decide who among them should attend the trial. Bo has relayed to them that he sincerely wants someone from his family present, said the family friend. According to state media on Thursday, five family members were attending the trial.
Bo was ousted from China’s
Politburo and as party chief in Chongqing, a major city in southern China, after that city’s vice mayor implicated Bo’s wife in the death of a British businessman.
A sense of anxiety, verging on paranoia, was palpable Wednesday throughout the city of Jinan, where the trial is being held.
By morning, authorities had commandeered the entire second floor of a hotel nearby and transformed it into a Department of Motor Vehicles-like processing center to record the cellphone numbers, passport details and accreditations of hundreds of foreign journalists arriving to cover the trial.
Skittish personnel who were registering journalists in the morning declined to answer even basic questions, such as what branch of government they worked for. Minutes later, they rushed to greet a delegation from the powerful State Council office in Beijing, which wanted to inspect the premises.
On the sixth floor of the hotel, staffers standing outside a large hall vehemently denied knowledge of a post-trial news conference being prepared for the next day. But through double doors that were quickly shut by the staff, one could see large words blown up in the background of a stage announcing an event staged by the Intermediate People’s Court.
“This is not a legal case anymore, but a political case,” said Bo Zhiyue, a political analyst at the National University of Singapore. “People are watching how the government uses the law when it comes to a high-ranking official like Bo.”
Authorities have portrayed Bo in state-run media as a common criminal who will not receive special treatment. But the extra police cars and uniformed and plainclothes police throughout this city, 280 miles south of Beijing, suggested otherwise.
Government notices declared the trial would be “public,” and a court spokesman this week said seats in court were briefly available. State media reported Thursday that 19 journalists were inside the courtroom during the trial. But no journalist outside the state-run media appears to have obtained permission to sit in.