Beijing Probes Chongqing Abuse Claims

China's central authorities are looking into claims of forced confessions during Bo Xilai's anti-gang campaigns.

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bo-haggard-305.jpg Bo Xilai attends the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress in Beijing, March 14, 2012.

China's ruling Communist Party has begun investigating claims of official abuse of power during anti-gang campaigns in the southwestern city of Chongqing masterminded by its ousted former leader Bo Xilai, according to lawyers familiar with the allegations.

Li Zhuang, a whistle-blowing lawyer who worked on a high-profile anti-gang case in 2009, said via his account on the popular Sina microblogging service that the authorities were quietly probing claims of forced confessions and rights abuses during the campaigns, which won political plaudits at the time for Bo and his then police chief Wang Lijun.

Citing a number of lawyers who had defended accused triad leaders during the campaigns, Li said the authorities appeared to be offering an amnesty for police officers who elicited forced confessions as part of Bo and Wang's "strike black" campaigns in Chongqing.

Li served 18 months in jail for making allegations of torture against his client, Chongqing billionaire and motorcycle magnate Gong Gangmo.

Beijing-based lawyer Wu Lei, who is also familiar with the Chongqing campaigns, confirmed the content of Li's tweet, but declined to give further details.

"It's not convenient for me to speak, but this item of news is correct and quite recent," Wu said in an interview on Monday. "Not convenient" is widely understood in China to refer to the presence of strong official pressure not to speak out.

"We think this is a good thing, because it indicates a return to due legal process at the level of local government," he said.

But he said the lawyers were "prepared for a long, patient wait" for any outcome. "From a national perspective, this will help ensure stability in Chongqing," Wu said, before declining to comment further.

Targeted for wealth

In a recent interview with RFA's Mandarin service, Li said that many of those convicted in Chongqing at the height of Bo's anti-mafia campaigns were targeted for their wealth.

Bo, who was removed as ruling Chinese Communist Party's Chongqing secretary on March 15, was famed for his "strike black, sing red" campaigns during his tenure in the city as pensioners gathered daily to sing Mao Zedong era anthems and his right-hand man and police chief Wang Lijun pursued high-profile convictions.

Li claims that behind the headline-catching arrests and the Cultural Revolution kitsch, Bo and Wang ran a terror campaign that, while it did net some bona fide criminal bosses, also targeted innocent businessmen with the aim of taking over their assets.

Once seen as a strong contender for a top job in China's upcoming leadership transition, Bo was suspended from the highest echelons of the Party on April 10, after his former right-hand man Wang was taken into custody on Feb. 6 following a failed bid for political asylum at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu.

Officials from the Party's central commission for discipline inspection are reportedly probing the family's ties with China's powerful security chief, Zhou Yongkang, who was at the center of wild political coup rumors earlier this month.

The Australian reported this week on speculation that the authorities would soon release a confession by Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, who is currently under police investigation at an unknown location over her alleged involvement in the murder of British businessman and close associate Neil Heywood.

Bo and Wang are also being held secretly, with no official word on their status, prompting some activists to call for greater transparency and to avoid violations of their rights.

Wang Zheng, a professor at the Beijing Institute for Economic Management, wrote an open letter to the standing committee of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), calling for Bo's release.

Wang said she had heard from Bo's family that Wang had been tricked into going to the consulate by a phone call from central government warning him that a Tibetan lama was seeking political asylum at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Chengdu.

She said her letter had sparked official warnings to Bo's family members that the safety of both Bo and Wang could be at stake, and a refusal on their part to give her any more information.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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