News / Asia

Indicted Chinese Co-Defendants Face Tightly Controlled Legal System

A combination photograph shows British businessman Neil Heywood (L) at an Aston Martin dealership in Beijing, May 26, 2010, and Gu Kailai, wife of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, at a mourning service held for her father-in-law in Beijing, China, Janu
A combination photograph shows British businessman Neil Heywood (L) at an Aston Martin dealership in Beijing, May 26, 2010, and Gu Kailai, wife of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, at a mourning service held for her father-in-law in Beijing, China, Janu
The indictment on murder charges of Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, and Zhang Xiaojun, a family employee, has set China's unique legal system in motion.

Chinese prosecutors have accused Gu and Zhang Thursday of poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood, once a close associate of Bo Xilai's family, who was found dead in a Chinese hotel last November. 

The indictment specifically charges the co-defendants with "intentional homicide." 

What comes next in the case is pretty easy to predict, according to Chinese attorney Jim Li, who studied law at Beijing University and in the United States. We contacted him at his firm in New York, Jim Li & Associates.

Jim Li: "Gu and [her] associate will face the death penalty, according to the Chinese penalty law. In China, acts...might be divided into two [categories]: one is intentionally, one is not - unintentionally.  Intentional murderer will face the death penalty."

VOA: What happens now? She is in police custody, and we can assume her co-defendant is as well. Where does the legal system go?

Jim Li: "The next step, they are going to appear before a judge.  They’re going to have an attorney, a lawyer to defend them. That should be done within a month."

VOA: Will they face a court with a jury of their peers?

Jim Lee: "In Chinese system, there [is a] forum with normally three judges.  So there’s no such jury like in the [United] States. And, also, there’s no arraignment hearing. No such hearing in China.  [She] was indicted, the next hearing will normally be individual merits hearing."

VOA:  Is it your experience that the lawyers who represent the defendants have a fair opportunity to defend their clients?  

Jim Li: "No. They have no fair opportunity to have their own lawyer to defend them freely.  [The] lawyers under the Chinese system, particularly related to political issues, will be controlled by the authorities. The lawyers cannot freely defend them."

VOA:  So by definition the lawyers who are assigned to the two co-defendants are biased? They’re chosen by the government?

Jim Li: "No. They have the freedom to choose their own lawyers. The family...could find a lawyer for their relatives freely. But the lawyers are not free. The lawyer who would be hired will be controlled by the Chinese authorities. For example, they could not defend 'not guilty.' "

VOA:  But can the co-defendants plead not guilty?

Jim Li: "The lawyer cannot say 'not guilty' before the judge for some important cases, not every case, not by law. Under the Chinese political and legal situations,  lawyers are controlled by the authorities. They are not free to defend a 'not guilty' plea."

VOA:  In what way are they controlled?

Jim Lee:  "They are threatened. Some lawyers are chased out of the court."

VOA: This proceeding that is going to take place, is it something that is going to be televised for the Chinese public?

Jim Li: "No. Definitely not.  It is impossible. The media in China also are now afraid to report this case.  All the news released about this case will be…issued by Xinhua agency. No other media could freely report this case."

VOA: You’re painting a picture where there’s really not much maneuvering room for the defendants.

Jim Li: "There is only one thing [where] there is room for the defendants: whether or not they are going to face the death penalty, because I read the indictment charges and they [contend the defendants] murdered Mr. Heywood because Gu felt that...her son was facing some danger [from] Mr. Heywood. This is an indication that Gu has one reason for not [facing] death penalty."

VOA: Does her motivation itself give Gu the opportunity to avoid the death penalty?

Jim Li:  "That’s right. Because the indictment provided a motivation. That’s very odd to me.  It’s not so usual for the motivation for such important a case. Most likely, they are going to give a leeway to Gu for no death penalty.  There’s another penalty of punishment for the death penalty, it says probation of the death penalty for two years... Before the [end of] probation the court will change the sentence to a life sentence."

VOA: Is there any process in the Chinese legal system that allows them to appeal?

Jim Li: "Yes, definitely. Under the procedure criminal procedure law, they have the right to appeal,  but you know that most important cases all procedures are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.  So the appeal will fail."

VOA's Catherine Maddux contributed to this story from Washington.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs