As the ruling Chinese Communist Party undergoes a once-in-a-decade leadership transition amid the worst political scandal in more than 20 years, lawyers for fallen political star Bo Xilai say there has been little movement on their bid to represent him.
"We are waiting for notification [from the state prosecutor at the highest level]," said Beijing-based lawyer Li Xiaolin, who has been hired by Bo's family to defend him. "They told us they would probably reply to us in the next few days."
Li said he was unable to confirm recent media reports that the feisty and charismatic Bo was refusing to cooperate with the criminal investigation by going on a hunger strike.
"A lot of people are asking me if this is true, but I don't know," said Li, who hasn't been officially recognized as Bo's lawyer yet, and has therefore been unable to meet with him.
"These are all rumors, and we're not going to start passing them on."
Last month, China's parliament expelled Bo from its ranks following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, removing the former Chongqing Communist Party chief's parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a trial.
Bo, whose wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence in August for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, was expelled from the Party a month earlier.
Investigations showed he had "abused his power, made severe mistakes and borne major responsibility in the [Wang Lijun] incident," official media reported.
Former police chief Wang Lijun's Feb. 6 visit to the U.S. Consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu was the first public sign that all was not well in Chongqing.
Wang was jailed for 15 years in September for "bending the law for selfish ends," "abuse of power," and "defection."
Bo was also judged, during a secretive internal disciplinary investigation carried out by the Party, to bear "major responsibility" in Heywood's murder.
Li was hired, along with another lawyer, by Gu's mother Fan Chengxiu to defend Bo, and submitted the application for official approval of the arrangement this month.
Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper quoted Beijing sources as saying that Bo was held at a guesthouse near the resort town of Huairou, 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the north of Beijing, during his "shuanggui" disciplinary investigation.
A former state prosecutor who published a book detailing rights abuses in the "shuanggui" system told the book's launch party that investigators "do anything they like."
Bo has been largely uncooperative with the investigation, the paper's sources said, speculating that he could receive a jail term of 20 years, a suspended death sentence like Gu, or even be executed.
Bo was formally arrested by the Supreme People's Procuratorate in Beijing after his expulsion from parliament, and was moved to the maximum security Qincheng Prison in the northern district of Changping, where his revolutionary father Bo Yibo was also once held.
"He has continued to refuse food," the paper reported, adding that his combative attitude was making the authorities involved in his case very angry and had sparked an investigation into his close family, including brothers Bo Xiyong, Bo Xicheng, and Bo Xining.
Bo, who was once widely tipped for a place on China's all-powerful Politburo standing committee, still enjoys strong support among the Maoist left of the Party, who saw his anti-crime and revolutionary song campaigns in Chongqing as a bid to return to an era of ideological purity.
Call for open trial
Last month, more than 300 left-wing Party members penned an open letter to the National People's Congress, China's parliament, calling for a fair trial and more information about the criminal proceedings against Bo.
U.S.-based veteran dissident Wang Xizhe said two letters were sent to the Congress in the end, however, with a total of more than 1,400 signatures from across the political spectrum.
He said an attempt to take out full-page advertisements in the U.S. edition of the Singtao Daily had been refused, with no reasons given.
"There isn't even any freedom of expression overseas now," said Wang, who signed one of the letters himself.
"Our mouths have been stopped," he said.
"In the past, overseas [Chinese-language] newspapers have never printed the names of more than 1,000 people from inside China," he said. "These people were very courageous, and they all used their real names."
Wang said that those who signed want an open and fair trial for Bo, with strict observance of due legal process in accordance with his rights under China's Constitution.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.