Gu Kailai Given Suspended Death Sentence

August 19, 2012 11:39 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 12:35 pm
Gu Kailai is led into the courtroom at the Intermediate People's Court in Hefei
Gu Kailai is led into the courtroom at the Intermediate People's Court in Hefei, Anhui Province, on Aug. 9. She confessed to the murder of Briton Neil Heywood in a narrative that many observers thought apocryphal. (China Central Television)

Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced high-level Chinese Communist Party official Bo Xilai, has been given a suspended death sentence in a verdict released by the court at 9 a.m. local time on Aug. 20.

Suspended death sentences are often commuted to life or fixed-term sentences after a two-year period, according to human rights group Duihua.

The sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood marks the conclusion of a trial that has drawn international attention, and marks the beginning of the resolution of the Hollywood-esque political scandal in China that has roiled the Communist Party since February.

Gu’s family assistant, Zhang Xiaojun, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Both were found guilty of conspiring to do away with Heywood, according to the elaborate narrative either produced or accepted by the court. Both admitted to the crimes as described.

Many observers thought the official narrative spurious however, given that important chronological details (for example, when Heywood was said to have sequestered and threatened Gu’s son, Bo Guagua) fail to match up with established facts.

Four policemen that helped Gu cover for Heywood’s murder were also sentenced, though details were not immediately announced.

Observers took a variety of views on the outcome. Chen Pokong, a columnist and political commentator based in the United States, said that the sentence is also an effective statement by the Communist Party that the enormous wealth illicitly accumulated by the Bo and Gu clan—into the hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars—will not be investigated. Nor will there be an investigation into their stripping of assets from businessmen, or the trafficking in organs and bodies from executed Falun Gong detainees that the two are understood to have engaged in, and profited from.

Normally, murderers are executed in China, as Gu herself boasted in a 1998 book extolling the virtues of China’s communist justice system.

Tang Baiqiao, a prominent democracy activist and political commentator, raises the question that there may have been a behind-the-scenes deal for Gu to have been given such relatively lenient treatment.

Gu and Bo are believed to have been involved in a multimillion dollar trade in human bodies and organs, involving the live organ extraction of thousands of political prisoners, most suspected to be practitioners of Falun Gong.

The reason Gu was not sentenced to death must be because she and Bo were able to trade something with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—silence about their more severe atrocities, for example—in return for leniency, argues Tang. “It will be a calamity for China if these people rise again,” he said.

The need to get the trial over with quickly, and come up with a story, any story, may have led to the sense that the trial was not a genuine trial, but a deal to be wrapped up quickly. Reflecting on the case Chinese legal scholar He Weifang wrote on his blog on Aug. 12: “If this kind of case is not tried justly, then lies have to be used to cover up lies, leading to an impossible situation where the story doesn’t hold together and it becomes a satire of justice.”

Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing any longer to participate in the persecution. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.

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