Saturday, September 29, 2012

The rule of law proves evasive in China

Washington Post
September 29, 2012

A glance at the news from China on Friday might suggest a political system reacting properly to high-level wrongdoing. The former boss of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, once one of China’s most powerful regional figures, was expelled from the Communist Party and, according to official news media, faces charges of corruption. Earlier, Mr. Bo’s wife was convicted and given a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman. Mr. Bo is a son of one of the party’s revolutionary founders, so his punishment must have been an agonizing decision for the secretive party clique that rules China.

But does the official version of events in Chongqing match what really happened? Given China’s opaque court system and controlled media, there’s no way to know. A more useful lesson of how law is used in China is provided by a decision that came Thursday from Beijing’s No. 2 People’s Intermediate Court.

The court rejected a second and final appeal by dissident artist Ai Weiwei against a $2.4 million fine for tax evasion. In the appeal, Mr. Ai accused the tax bureau of violating laws in handling witnesses and gathering evidence in his case. The court dismissed those claims in a ruling delivered abruptly to Mr. Ai by telephone. Mr. Ai, who was incarcerated for 81 days last year in a crackdown on dissidents, has long maintained the tax fine is retaliation for his outspoken criticism of China’s abuse of human rights. The authorities have retained Mr. Ai’s passport, preventing him from attending exhibitions of his work abroad, but he has refused to be silenced.

“What surprises me is that this society, which is developing at such a rapid rate today, still has the most barbaric and backward legal system,” he said. “I think it’s a bad omen.”