Chinese petitioners see opportunity in reporters gathered for Bo Xilai trial


Police surround a protester outside the Intermediate People's Court where disgraced politician Bo Xilai will soon go on trial in Jinan. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

JINAN, China -- With so much international attention focused on what is being billed as China's "trial of the century," that of ousted Communist Party leader Bo Xilai, some are eager to grab a share of that limelight.

Several petitioners with grievances against the government have traveled to the city of Jinan, where Bo's trial is being held, and tried to position themselves before the cameras, recorders and notebooks of the hundreds of foreign journalists camped outside the courthouse.

One woman in a green shirt camped out by the court gate and cursed the Communist Party for 10 minutes, railing against corruption and the "burning and looting" on the backs of China's citizens. When last seen by Washington Post reporters, she was receiving a stern talking-to by police.

Reporters from the Associated Press made note of a woman with a pink umbrella who rode up on a bicycle and shouted, "Give me justice!"

Long suffering and often ignored, petitioners have become a regular staple in China's political system. Their grievances often involve government corruption or cases like forced demolition of their homes. Bo's trial, some explained, offered them a rare chance to vent to a captive audience of journalists with nothing better to do and little information offered by authorities ahead of Thursday's trial.

But as the day dragged on in front of the courthouse, police began cordoning off the staging ground for foreign reporters from regular Chinese with police tape and plastic barricades.

Some unfortunate souls, however, didn't even make it that far.

Four hopeful petitioners who rode in all the way from Beijing said they had barely checked into their hotel in Jinan before police who had tracked them down burst into their room at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and hauled them back to capital.

Reached by cellphone Wednesday night, Wang Ling, one of the four, said she was still in a holding area at a Beijing police station waiting to be processed.

"I didn't even get to see Jinan," she said, much less the foreign media to whom she wanted to plead her case.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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Max Fisher · August 21, 2013