A court in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei is getting ready to hold the most high profile trial in China in decades when Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Communist party leader Bo Xilai, steps into the dock to face murder charges on Thursday.
Variously called Lady Macbeth and China’s Jackie Kennedy by the western media, Gu’s trial could move the spotlight away from the country’s winning performance in the London Olympics and instead bring it back on the murky details of the case, which left a trail of murder, money and failed political ambition behind it.
Also to come under focus is the secretive politics of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC); the timing of the trial is crucial as only months are left for the once-in-a-decade change of leadership in the party, which at last count had more than 80 million members.
The verdict in Gu’s case – a death sentence is not ruled out – is also likely to signal the end of her husband the charismatic Bo’s once promising political career. Bo was sacked as the mayor Chongqing, a city of 30 million in southwest China, and also from the powerful standing committee of the CPC in April for indiscipline.
It was days before his wife Gu, a lawyer by training, and a family aide Zhang Xiaojung were charged with poisoning British national Neil Heywood in a rundown hotel in Chongqing – where Bo was the populist mayor before being sacked -- last November.
“Investigation results show that Gu Kailai, one of the defendants, and her son surnamed Bo had conflicts with the British citizen Neil Heywood over economic interests. Worrying about Neil Heywood's threat to her son's personal security, Gu Kailai along with Zhang Xiaojun, the other defendant, poisoned Neil Heywood to death,’’ was the government’s brief statement publicised through the state media to announce the trial.
It also said: “The facts of the two defendants' crime are clear, and the evidence is irrefutable and substantial. Therefore, the two defendants should be charged with intentional homicide.”
This means that guilty verdict for the two is almost given. The sentencing might be a little more complicated as 51-yearold Gu’s from an influential family – her father was among the top revolutionaries during the Mao era. Whether Zhang, 33, takes the fall, remains to be seen.
Since Bo’s sacking, the ruling CPC through state media has repeatedly tried to project that the revelation of the incidents, the arrests and now the trial were evidence to corroborate that no one – not even a top, rising political star and his family – were above the law.
“The law should be the sole principle followed by the trial. No matter what impact the ruling will have, judges must be loyal to the law. This is a test of their commitment to the rule of law. Both the trial and the final verdict should reflect their consciences…Legal departments should disclose enough information regarding the trial to satisfy the public's demands. The more details are revealed, the more it will help build public confidence in China's legal framework,” state-run Global Times said about the trial and its implications.
While there is no hope for foreign journalists to attend the court hearing, two British diplomats will have access on special request.