BEIJING — The dramatic ouster of Bo Xilai as Communist Party chief in Chongqing has prompted an outpouring from people who say their relatives were wrongly jailed under his rule and want the government to reopen their cases.
More than 4,000 people were jailed during an aggressive anti-crime campaign that Bo launched in late 2007. While Bo insisted that he was cracking down on gangsters and lawlessness, critics say he led a brutal effort designed to punish rivals and squeeze money from local businesses.
How the government handles the myriad cases and the mounting evidence of wrongdoing poses yet another test for a Chinese leadership that is anxious to contain the growing scandal, but that also claims to be publicly committed to upholding the rule of law.
Many of the relatives have been making the trek from the southwestern interior city of Chongqing to the home of Li Zhuang, a prominent Beijing lawyer, who they hope can help them get justice for their relatives languishing in jails back home. Most come secretly, and do not want themselves or their relatives to be identified for fear of retribution.
“My place has become the petitioning office for Chongqing people,” said Li, who was receiving a steady stream of visitors on a recent morning. “They know I am against what Bo Xilai did in Chongqing.”
Before his sudden fall last month, Bo was a charismatic rising star in China’s opaque political system. His ascent was disrupted by a wide-ranging corruption and murder probe that has already snared his wife, a household aide and a number of his top associates. Bo’s removal, and the ensuing investigation into the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, has embroiled China’s Communist Party in its worst internal strife since the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
In Chongqing, Bo was perhaps best known for leading a ferocious assault on crime called “da hei,” or “strike the black,” that was led by his right-hand man, the former police chief Wang Lijun, who later betrayed him.