Chinese rights activists have called for greater transparency in the handling of an investigation into ousted former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, amid reports that he tapped the phone of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The New York Times on Thursday quoted almost a dozen sources with ties to China's ruling Communist Party, now facing its biggest political crisis since 1989, as saying that Bo's obssessive wiretapping of Party colleagues, including Hu, was seen as evidence of Bo's overweening ambition, and hastened his political downfall.
The report said that anti-surveillance devices installed in the President's office had detected the wiretap during a call made by a senior anti-corruption official in Chongqing last August, during Bo's tenure there.
Central government investigators initially began a probe into Bo's then-police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, possibly contributing to Wang's flight this year to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, where he alleged that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was linked to the death of British business consultant Neil Heywood last November.
The secrecy surrounding Bo's disgrace has set China's Internet alight with political rumors, which the authorities have moved swiftly to quell through controls on the country's wildly popular Twitter-like services, known as "weibo."
It has also sparked calls from lawyers and rights activists for greater transparency around the Bo-linked investigations ahead of a key leadership transition at the 18th Party Congress later this year.
Eyes on China
Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said the eyes of the world were on China as the Bo scandal unfolded, and called on the authorities to make the investigation as public as possible.
"An internal investigation is already a denial of the rule of law," Jiang said.
"We citizens have no way of knowing whether this case is about politics, a factional struggle ... unless it is handled with transparency," he said.
"People have already been punished who should not have been," Jiang added.
He said he had called on his Sina Weibo microblog account for Bo to be subjected to due legal process and given a fair trial.
"It doesn't matter what Bo Xilai has done," Jiang said. "His rights should still be protected."
Bo, once seen as a contender for China's all-powerful nine-member Politburo standing committee, was stripped of his seats on the Politburo and the Party's Central Committee earlier this month.
Gu, formerly a successful lawyer with international business interests, is now under police investigation as a suspect in Heywood's murder, while Bo and Wang are under internal investigation at unknown locations for "serious violations" of Party discipline, official media has reported.
'No lavish lifestyle'
Meanwhile, Bo's Harvard-based son broke his silence this week in a letter to the student newsletter, Crimson, denying reports that he had lived a life of decadent luxury while a student in the U.K.
"I am deeply concerned about the events surrounding my family, but I have no comments to make regarding the ongoing investigation," Bo wrote in a letter published in the online edition of the newsletter.
He denied reports that he had lived a lavish lifestyle while he was a student in the U.K.
"My tuition and living expenses at Harrow School, University of Oxford and Harvard University were funded exclusively by two sources—scholarships earned independently, and my mother’s generosity from the savings she earned from her years as a successful lawyer and writer," Bo wrote.
In an apparent reference to photographs which have appeared in British tabloids of him at parties and engaged in student pranks, Bo admitted to going to some social events during his time at Oxford.
"These events are a regular feature of social life at Oxford and most students take part in these college-wide activities," he wrote.
Hu Ping, editor of the U.S.-based online magazine Beijing Spring, said he was still skeptical about Bo Guagua's lifestyle.
"Bo Xilai said [at a news conference in March] that his wife, Gu Kailai, had closed her law business a long time ago and didn't have a job," Hu said.
"What most people were concerned about was how the two of them could afford to pay the fees for these schools on his salary as a government official," he said.
"The apartment Bo Guagua lives in at Harvard is of the type that costs U.S. $3,000 a month; he is clearly not going to be able to afford to pay that out of a scholarship."
Hu called on the investigation to make public the details of Bo and Gu's income. "[We want to know] whether the money Gu Kailai saved from her law practice was enough to to support that kind of expenditure."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin declined to comment on the letter.
"I am very sorry, but we haven't received any material on this matter," Liu told a regular news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
"This affair has already entered a judicial process, and will be dealt with by judicial departments according to law," Liu said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.