Bo Xilai on Trial in Toronto
Coincidentally, a sensational show trial against Bo has just concluded in China, but the charges he faced there, namely corruption and embezzlement, were sterilized of any of the more problematic crimes he is accused of, including the theft of organs from prisoners of conscience.
And while Bo was prosecuted by the regime in China, he is being defended in Canada through the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), an entity controlled by the same justice ministry that just tried him in China and is expected to soon find him guilty.
It is widely held that Bo’s trial in China avoided any charges that could exacerbate divisions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or implicate other officials or the Party itself in major human rights abuses carried out by Bo and his political allies.
The Fall of Bo
Prior to 2007 when Bo was still commerce minister, he was considered a shoo-in for the standing committee of the politburo—the CCP’s highest organ.
Bo’s subsequent downfall and the trial he just faced in China are closely linked to the substance of the case against him in Canada, a connection that became clear in 2007.
That was the year of the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party when former Premier Wen Jiabao argued against Bo being promoted from commerce minister to vice premier. Wen held that the lawsuits filed against Bo by Falun Gong adherents in Australia, Spain, England, the U.S.—and the one being heard next week in Toronto—had tainted Bo’s reputation.
Details of Wen’s arguments against Bo came out through diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.
“Wen successfully argued that Bo’s significant negative international exposure made him an inappropriate candidate to represent China at an even higher international level,” said a source quoted in a 2007 cable from Simon Schuchat, deputy principal officer at the U.S. consulate general in Shanghai.
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 difficult 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.
In Chongqing, Bo attempted to revive his fortunes with a Maoist campaign that combined zealous communist idealism with a crackdown on corruption.
He imprisoned political rivals and directly challenged higher ranking Party members by using his personal connections in the military to stage military exercises meant to signal to then-leader Hu Jintao that he could potentially stage a coup. Rumours later alleged he attempted just that in March 2012.
Many previously believed Bo’s support from former leader Jiang Zemin and domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang would help him elbow his way back into the highest circles of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhou and Bo had risen through the Party’s ranks under Jiang’s leadership because both had been determined backers of Jiang’s campaign against Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese self-improvement and meditation practice that spread rapidly in China in the 1990s.
The possibility of Bo’s rise ended, however, when his right-hand man Wang Lijun attempted to defect to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu last year. Wang’s failed defection and subsequent arrest by Chinese authorities gave Hu Jintao ammunition to bring Bo down and have him ejected from the Party.
The fact that Bo was linked to rumours of a coup attempt meant to pre-empt current Party leader Xi Jinping from taking over from Hu ensured that Xi followed up on Bo’s prosecution.
Illegal Organ Harvesting
While Bo and Wang’s downfalls are linked to infighting between factions of the CCP, the dividing line between those factions largely comes down to the persecution of Falun Gong, launched by the Party in July 1999. Those responsible for the crackdown want to avoid future prosecution for those crimes by political opponents by ensuring allies remain in key positions in the Party.
Likely the most serious of those crimes is the harvesting of organs from imprisoned Falun Gong adherents. Bo and Wang were key architects of the crackdown in Liaoning Province, an area known for particularly brutal treatment of adherents of the spiritual discipline.
Liaoning is home to the infamous Masanjia labour camp where 18 female Falun Gong adherents were thrown naked into a cell with male prisoners and gang-raped in Oct. 2000. The province is also closely tied to organ harvesting.
Before his downfall, in 2006 Wang was awarded for advancing organ harvesting and told attendees at the award ceremony that “to see someone being killed and to see this person’s organs being transplanted to several other person’s bodies is profoundly stirring.”
Wang was head of the Jinzhou City Public Security Bureau On-site Psychological Research Center at the time. Jinzhou city is in Liaoning province.
Investigations by Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas and former MP David Kilgour, as well as American investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann, have concluded that imprisoned Falun Gong adherents accounted for tens of thousands of organ transplants.
Bo was mayor of Dalian City in Liaoning province when the crackdown began and promoted to governor of the province in 2001 before being promoted to Minister of Commerce in 2004.
It was during Bo’s tenure in Dalian that a highly litigious Western businessman established factories to plasticize human bodies for lucrative public exhibitions staged around the world.
It was in Liaoning that Toronto resident Jin Rong, now a Canadian citizen, accountant, and mother, was imprisoned twice for practicing Falun Gong. The case she brought against Bo has been winding its way through the Ontario Superior Court for eight years.
While Bo has not officially acknowledged the lawsuit, the Chinese consulate in Toronto has asked the ACLA to argue Bo should have immunity for his crimes because he was a government official at the time.
Jin Rong’s lawyers argue that Bo’s crimes were connected to the campaign of persecution against Falun Gong carried out by the Chinese Communist Party, not the government itself, and therefore his crimes are not covered by state immunity.
Jin Rong alleges that while attending university in Dalian City in Liaoning province she was arrested and detained twice while Bo was the CCP chief in Dalian.
During her detentions she was denied showers, clean clothes and sanitary napkins, fed only rice gruel and pickles, and forced to sleep on the cold ceramic floor. During the day she was forced to do hard manual labour producing decorations for export.
After being released she was kept under surveillance and labelled an enemy of the state, unable to get a job as a result. Her friends and family were also forced to spy on her, which made her distrustful of those around her.
“I was always scared, always in a panic like a rabbit surrounded by hungry wolves. Even my parents were asked to spy on me and this put them in a desperate and hopeless situation that made their suffering worse,” she wrote in an affidavit filed with the court.
“I felt I had seen the worst side of human nature, a side I had never known existed,” Jin wrote.
During Jin’s second imprisonment, her parents were not informed she had been detained and did now know where she was. She said the scenes she saw in prison have left her emotionally scarred.
“Falun Gong practitioners were regularly beaten by the police there, who kicked and punched me and the other practitioners,” she wrote.
“One day, a female practitioner called He Yuhong, a 29-year old engineer, suggested that practitioners gather and talk. Because of this, I witnessed how several police dragged Ms. He by her hair into another room. I heard the noise of the beating and screaming and the sound of a basin being used for beating. I felt extreme anguish, terrorized and hopeless in that place, and I can never forget that horrible time.”
When she went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses, guards made her watch while other practitioners were force-fed, and told her one adherent had died from the procedure of having the force-feeding tube forced into her stomach.
“The guard threatened me that if I continued my hunger strike I too would be subjected to this brutal procedure. I was horrified by the story and the scene.”
After being released, she was threatened that the next time she was arrested she would be sent to Masanjia labour camp.
Jin Rong fled China in 2004, a decision that caused a rift between her parents and led to their eventual separation.
She said the experience has left her suffering bouts of depression and sometimes extreme anxiety.
“Every time I recall the experiences I suffered, I relive the torture and pain and my body shivers.”
Even when she is alone in Canada, she feels afraid, she writes. “The terror of being abducted without notice has never left me.”