Case breaks ground for transparency

Updated: 2013-08-23 08:26

By An Baijie in Jinan and Zhao Yinan in Beijing (China Daily)

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With live micro blog updates, news conferences and special treatment for reporters, the public trial of Bo Xilai is expected to become a landmark proceeding for the level of judicial transparency it has demonstrated, law professors say.

Bo, 64, a former member of China's top-ruling political bureau and Party chief of Chongqing, stood trial on Thursday on allegations of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

As a major source of what is going on in the high-profile court proceeding, the micro blog of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court has seen the number of its followers surge by tens of thousands.

The momentous trial has attracted such wide attention that hundreds of reporters swarmed from across the country and abroad to Jinan days before the trial was scheduled to begin.

Reporters waited outside in designated areas in front of the east and south gates of the court early Thursday morning, filming the sedan carrying Bo.

Many residents also went to the streets with the hope of getting a glimpse of him.

A total of 110 people, including five of Bo's relatives and 19 media representatives, were admitted to witness the historic hearing in the fifth court room, the largest at the court.

Hundreds of journalists waited outside, due to limited space. Local authorities provided a room in a nearby hotel equipped with two large LED screens displaying the court's micro blog.

The micro blog account was also the major source of information for millions of netizens who followed the case, with posts only minutes behind the real-time hearing.

It is the first time a Chinese court has given regular updates of a high-ranking official's trial on its micro blog.

Scripts of the cross-examination, pictures inside the court room, as well as an audio recording of a key witness testifying against Bo, were all uploaded.

The information attracted tens of thousands of reposts, and made the court's account among the most popular on Sina Weibo on Thursday. Its followers surged to more than 304,000 as of 7 pm on Thursday, even though it was only officially registered on Sunday.

Apart from real-time micro blogging, Liu Yanjie, spokesman for the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, held two news conferences on Thursday.

At his first news conference, Liu guaranteed a transparent hearing, although he said no questions from the media would be answered at that time because the trial was still underway.

Xu Xin, a law professor specializing in legal procedure studies at Beijing Institute of Technology, had been following the court's micro blog since early in the morning.

"It is a real cliffhanger. I felt like I was being kept in suspense as I read through the scripts," the professor said.

Xu said he didn't expect the court hearing could be fully broadcast, since such a practice was "rarely seen in previous cases involving high-ranking officials".

"It means the court is ready to put the hearing under public scrutiny. I hope the practice can be used in more cases to improve judicial transparency," he said.

Xie Youping, a law professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said: "I think many, including me, felt like sitting in the court after reading through all the micro blog feeds. The court hearing was transparent, as well as rich in information, as it was broadcast in text and partly in audio to society, which reflects the real situation in the court room."

"The historical significance of the case lies not only in the fact that it put a high-ranking official on trial, but also that it may push forward China's judicial transparency in an unexpected way."

(China Daily USA 08/23/2013 page3)