Bo Behind Bars?

The Trial and China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

A policeman tries to stop a journalist in front of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court.
A policeman tries to stop a journalist from photographing as vehicles enter a gate of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, where the trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai was set to begin in Jinan, Shandong province, August 22, 2013. (Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters)

If the trial of Bo Xilai, a princeling and former Politburo member in China, had been a TV drama, the closing credits for directing and scripting would have gone to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party’s secret anti-corruption body. The court itself was merely the setting.

At the trial, Bo faced charges of corruption, embezzlement, and misuse of authority. In the course of his five-day ordeal, he shocked and delighted the public, which is accustomed to hearing that defendants accept all charges and offer apologetic statements to seek leniency during closed-door court sessions. Instead of performing the usual role, Bo denied all the charges and recanted an earlier admission of guilt, which he said he had made under duress: “I was interrogated several hundred times and passed out 27 times during the investigation,” he said. According to Bo, officials had threatened the death penalty for his wife, who was accused of killing the British businessman Neil Heywood, and to extradite his son, who was studying in the United States, if he didn’t stay mum.

Of course, those revelations were all edited out of the official court transcript, part of which was broadcast via micro-blog. However, insiders quickly leaked them to the public. The transcripts earned Bo much more sympathy than the party had anticipated, and they boosted his supporters’ claims that he was the victim of a power struggle and that his confessions were coerced. In the end, then, the trial said less about Bo’s guilt or innocence than about the party’s manipulation of the country’s judicial system in order to protect the interests of the senior party leadership -- all in the name of stemming corruption.

PARTY DISCIPLINE

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection was established in 1927 under the name of the Central Supervisory Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. It was originally charged with rooting out corruption within the top leadership ranks, but after the Communists took over China in 1949, the top leadership found it to be more useful for maintaining discipline further down the party hierarchy. They thus came to rely on it to quietly regulate the rank-and-file members without garnering much attention in the media or among the public.

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