Foreign media fed details only after legal fact

Non-Chinese journalists get to observe trial at one remove

A TV screen shows a news report of disgraced politician Bo Xilai standing in the courtroom, flanked by police guards, at Jinan Intermediate People’s Court on Thursday. Photograph; Vincent Yu/AP

A TV screen shows a news report of disgraced politician Bo Xilai standing in the courtroom, flanked by police guards, at Jinan Intermediate People’s Court on Thursday. Photograph; Vincent Yu/AP

Fri, Aug 23, 2013, 09:52

Foreign journalists are not allowed to enter the court to report China’s trial of the century, that of former Communist Party superstar Bo Xilai on graft charges, but they are given blue ID badges to wear at regular briefings. Not exactly a show trial.

The legal process in the sweltering, eastern coastal city of Jinan has been flagged as an “open trial”, but it is hardly welcoming. A booking at a hotel was cancelled while we were en route because the management had been told not to allow foreign journalists to stay.

There are briefings for the media after every session, but no formal access to the proceedings granted. As such, this has been trial by social network. There were regular updates on the court’s official microblog on Weibo, the Chinese version of the banned Twitter.


Step by step
And so it was that we learned that the defendant was taken into the court at 8.47am, that there were no empty seats in the court, and that five Bo family members and 19 journalists were among the 110 observers in the room.

This was how we saw the first photograph of the purged 64-year-old former scion of the party in a year and a half. His hair was still black, so he’s still getting access to hair dye. And he remains an imposing figure.

One of the funnier pictures from the day was of the white-shirted Bo standing between two policemen, but with one of the officer’s faces replaced with that of dissident artist Ai Weiwei, grinning broadly.

Every gesture is watched carefully, both by those reading on Weibo, by the media and presumably by the security forces.

There were reports that one user had their Weibo account deleted after they speculated that Bo was signalling to his son Guagua in a photograph using a hand gesture, letting him know he was okay.


Plotting a route
Outside the court, most people in Jinan did not seem aware of what was going on, though there were complaints about the need to make massive diversions around the court buildings to get home.

Some of Bo’s supporters were there, some of them waving photographs of modern China’s founding father, Mao Zedong, the icon often invoked by Bo during his populist rule in Chongqing in southwestern China. Others sang songs and chanted his name before being removed.

There were also many petitioners there, using the occasion to try and get someone, anyone to hear their complaints.

One middle-aged man said his wife and son had been taken away that day after they complained about a delay in payment for a government construction contract. He seemed desperate and left as plainclothes police gathered around us.

Another was well-prepared, with a water bottle and a sun hat as he climbed on to a pillar and shouted complaints in hard-to-comprehend Shandong dialect. Police told him to get down, and he responded by stripping to his underpants.