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Bo Xilai's imprisoned wife denied access to family, lawyers, those close to her family say

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BEIJING — Gu Kailai, the wife of deposed Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai, will probably be tried for murder in less than two weeks, but lawyers retained by her family have so far been unable to contact her and fear that the trial may be unfair, according to people close to Gu’s family.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, revealed Thursday that Gu and a household aide, Zhang Xiaojun, have been charged with “intentional homicide” in the poisoning last November of British businessman Neil Heywood.

The sensational case derailed the ambitions of the charismatic Bo and triggered the most dramatic political upheaval in China in two decades ahead of a planned leadership transition this fall.

There has been no specific allegation that Bo was involved in Heywood’s death and no official word on his fate. Some analysts said the fact that Bo’s name was not included in Thursday’s report suggests that he might not be charged in connection with the case.

On Friday, the Global Times newspaper, which is owned by the Communist Party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, published an editorial saying that the upcoming trial — to be held in Hefei, in Anhui province — would be a test of China’s commitment to the rule of law.

“It will be a landmark trial,” the newspaper said. “So far, it has sent a message to society that nobody, regardless of his or her status and power, can be exempt from punishment if he or she behaves unscrupulously, especially if he harms another person’s life.”

But individuals close to Gu’s family who have knowledge of the case are questioning whether the trial, which they believe will be held Aug. 7 or 8, can be fair. They said that since Gu was arrested in April, family members have received no official word of the charges she is facing and that neither they nor the lawyers they hired have been able to meet with her.

“The family can’t do anything but anxiously wait and worry,” said one person close to the family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of restrictions on speaking to foreign journalists. The person said Gu’s family believes she is being held in a house or villa in Hefei, which is typical for high-profile prisoners. “But if so, why don’t they allow the family to visit her?”

One of the individuals with direct knowledge of the case said that Gu’s mother, Fan Chengxiu, had hired two Beijing lawyers, Shen Zhigeng and Du Lianjun, who have experience handling high-profile corruption cases.

Shen, contacted by telephone, said he has not been able to reach Gu. Du could not be reached for this article. But others with knowledge of the case said that Du went to the Hefei prosecutor’s office and, after waiting half a day, was told that Gu will be represented in her trial by two government-appointed lawyers from Anhui province.

The people with knowledge of the situation also said that the wife of Zhang, the Bo family aide who was also charged with murder, had hired a lawyer separately and that the lawyer had been unable to meet Zhang. They described Zhang as a 33-year-old native of Snaxi province and a loyal worker in the Bo household who had started out as a security guard.

Refusing to allow criminal defendants to choose their own attorneys is standard in China. Chen Kegui, the nephew of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, is awaiting trial in Shandong province on murder charges stemming from an April 27 assault on his home near Linyi city after Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest. Against the wishes of his relatives, the courts have appointed two lawyers to defend him.

Until this spring, Bo, 63, was one of the Communist Party’s highfliers, presiding over the sprawling, province-size municipality of Chongqing, where he oversaw a sweeping crackdown on organized crime and a “red revival” campaign of Maoist era songs and pageantry.

Bo’s prominence made him a hero to China’s “new leftists,” and he was considered a top contender for advancement in the leadership transition planned for later this year. But Bo also unnerved some Communist Party stalwarts, who were concerned about his flair for self-promotion and the cult of personality that grew up around him.

Also, while Bo’s crime crackdown is credited with increasing security in Chongqing, lawyers, human rights activists and others say his campaign resulted in the incarceration of many innocent people, some of whom allegedly were targeted so that Bo and the government could seize their property and assets.

Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.

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