Former Communist leader Bo Xilai wasn’t seen in public since March last year. But over the last four days, Bo and his apparently bold, feisty comments during the trial are all over thanks to the live online broadcast of court proceedings from Jinan in eastern China.
Set up for the trial, the Twitter-like microblog account of the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court had more than 478000 followers by Saturday. Many others are picking up the feed from secondary sources.
According to state media, by Saturday evening, the court had tweeted more than 110 Weibo posts, including transcripts, pictures and audio and video files of evidence.
Many of the posts have been re-tweeted thousands of times and a picture of Bo in the courthouse on Thursday morning has been re-tweeted more than 69,000 times.
The frequent blog updates including comments from Bo and his lawyers have given the ongoing trial a veneer of transparency. And the Chinese authorities have lost no time in hailing the blog as the sign of how transparent and open the most controversial trial in China in decades has been.
State media outlets have patted the backs of the government for putting it up.
“The court is using new media for timely and accurate disclosure of important information from the trial in transcripts and pictures. This greatly satisfies the concerns the general public have in Bo's case and also indicates the new central leadership's confidence in governance, rule of law and its anti-graft crackdown," said an article written by Yang Fei on the website run by the Guangming Daily.
But how open and transparent is the trial really? For one, Bo wasn’t even seen in public once for 17 months. This instantly puts a sharp question mark on the judicial system; how fair, open and transparent it actually is.
Probably a handful of people know what transpired between the authorities and him during those months. This easily gives rise to speculation that backroom deals were reached; Bo will be allowed to speak, even if it is in a calibrated manner, but will also confess. His punishment, many feel, is already decided.
At least 100 people have been allowed inside the courtroom including 19 local journalists; foreign journalists have been kept out. People have been handpicked is the general opinion.
Press conferences are being held to brief the media. But are questions being allowed to ask? No.
The idea behind the blog is probably to send a message to the people that no official is above the law. By repeatedly showing Bo and broadcasting his comments, the authorities want to show to the people that neither corrupt “tigers” nor corrupt “flies” -- as stated by President Xi Jinping – will be spared.