China is in the middle of it’s most important political trial for decades, with ousted Chongqing party boss facing up to charges including bribery, and abuse of power.
As Ben Carlson of the Global Post writes, it’s the first “Communist show trial of the social-media era,” with the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court of Shandong Province essentially live-blogging the trial from on Sina Weibo (actual journalists at the court are being forced to watch a television showing the Weibo feed in a separate room).
It all sounds amazingly modern, but yes, this is still a show trial, and the authorities are working very hard to control the public perception of the trial.
For example, as pointed out by a number of observers on social media, Bo Xilai seems a little different at the trial. Take a look at this picture, the first picture of Bo released since his arrest:
Bo Xilai looks a little short, no? Now take a look at another picture from before Bo’s fall from grace:
If Bo’s guards are dwarfing him, they must be at least 6-foot-5 or so.
What are the chances that Bo would randomly end up with two huge guards? They’re certainly slim, and you have to guess that the guards were pre-picked to make Bo look smaller (they may also be standing on some kind of ledge, which also seems like pre-planned).
There is a logic here. While he was still in power, princeling Bo was seen as a charismatic and charming leader, capable of giving rousing speeches, and he had made his ambitions to lead China very clear. He was also a Maoist, and there are reports that the Communist Party elite found his beliefs, ambition, and, more than everything else, his popularity, very threatening. The court room photo could well be a way of showing his supporters that he is now powerless.
It’s just the latest public reminder of how the secret the Chinese legal system can be, especially in big, political trials like this. When Gu Kalai, Bo’s wife, was put on trial last year for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, there were widespread (and seemingly) credible reports that a body double was on trial in her place.
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