Once considered a contender to rule China, Bo Xilai is now on trial both in his own country and in Canada.
The disgraced former commerce minister was well liked among Canada’s business elite, a charismatic figure who rose quickly under former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.
Bo reigned over one of the bloodiest crackdowns on Falun Gong.
But what fuelled Bo’s rise ended up burning him. Promoted for his zealous adherence to Jiang’s efforts to eradicate the Falun Gong spiritual practice, Bo soon faced lawsuits around the world, including in Canada, for his abuses.
Those lawsuits marked the turning point in his career—key ammunition his political opponents used to orchestrate his downfall.
Bo’s fortunes seemed bright at the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party five years ago. He looked set to rise from minister of commerce to vice premier until current Premier Wen Jiabao argued that the lawsuits Falun Gong adherents filed against Bo made him a poor choice for promotion.
Details of his downfall came to light through diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.
“Premier Wen had argued against the promotion, citing the numerous lawsuits brought against Bo in Australia, Spain, Canada, England, the United States, and elsewhere by Falun Gong members,” said a source quoted in a 2007 cable from Simon Schuchat, deputy principal officer at the U.S. consulate general in Shanghai.
“Wen successfully argued that Bo’s significant negative international exposure made him an inappropriate candidate to represent China at an even higher international level,” the source said.
Instead of being promoted, Bo was sent to problem-prone Chongqing, the world’s largest city and a thorny place to govern due to rampant corruption, environmental problems, and other hard to tackle issues.
“Bo’s move to Chongqing puts an ambitious, arrogant, and widely disliked competitor for a top position in a trouble-filled position far from Beijing,” the source said, according to the cable.
Now on trial in China for corruption and other charges, a lawsuit against Bo continues to wind its way through a Toronto courtroom.
The suit was filed by Jin Rong, a 32-year-old accountant now living in Toronto who was jailed and tortured on two occasions in 2000 when she lived in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, where Bo was mayor and deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Committee for the province.
Jin’s first detention came after she went to the Beijing Appeals Office to appeal against the ban on Falun Gong handed down by Jiang Zemin in 1999. She was arrested for exercising what on paper is a legal right in China and sent back to Dalian where she was imprisoned in Yaojia Detention Centre for 17 days.
She was kept in a room with 30 other prisoners, about half of whom were fellow Falun Gong adherents. She refused demands to sign a guarantee statement to not practice Falun Gong. During the day, she was forced to do manual labour; she was also fined.
That was in January. In April that year, she was arrested again when she refused to sign another letter to quit Falun Gong pushed on her by a university official.
The second detention lasted a month and included brainwashing classes where she and other Falun Gong adherents were forced to watch video programs defaming the practice, many of them broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV). If they refused to watch, they were locked in their rooms.
‘Bo Really Hurt People’
She saw fellow practitioners beaten regularly.
“I want people, especially in Canada, to know Bo actually really hurt people,” she said in an interview.
One day, Jin saw fellow practitioner He Yuhong, a 29-year old engineer, dragged by her hair away from a group of practitioners she had suggested gather and talk.
Guards dragged her to another room and beat her with basins made from either plastic or metal.
“We could hear her screaming and hear the basin’s noise as it hit her,” Jin said.
“I was very worried and I just wanted to break out the door and just wanted to get close to her immediately. And all the practitioners had the same feeling—to get close to her and stop the policemens’ torture.”
The only way to protest in prison is to hunger strike—something Jin resorted to during her second detention. Prison guards used force-feeding as a type of torture, she said. One guard recounted to Jin how a Falun Gong prisoner died from the process.
Four or five days into her hunger strike, police threatened to force-feed Jin and took her to watch two Falun Gong practitioners who were being force-fed. They were tied and had a rubber tube inserted through the nostrils that had blood on it when withdrawn.
Forced Organ Harvesting
But compared to many, Jin was fortunate. Bo reigned over one of the bloodiest crackdowns on Falun Gong during his time as mayor and later governor of the province.
He is also linked to the forced harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners’ organs. His former right-hand man and chief of police Wang Lijun even won an award for developing drugs so harvested organs could be used more efficiently.
Wang later attempted to defect to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, sparking events that led to Bo’s prosecution.
In accepting the “Guanghua Innovation Special Contribution Award,” Wang admitted to presiding over several thousand transplants.
Bo was known to push his subordinates to particular brutality against Falun Gong practitioners throughout several of his posts. Masanjia Labour Camp in Liaoning province became synonymous with the most severe torture of practitioners.
Bo reputedly fired officials who didn’t comply with his campaign against the group.
Bo hasn’t defended himself against Jin’s suit, though the Chinese regime’s association of lawyers have argued Bo has state immunity because of his stature in the Communist Party.
Whether that argument would hold now that Bo is about to be tried in China for his abuses remains to be seen.
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