China court to rule on compensation for man jailed for Bo joke

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A Chinese court rules on Thursday whether to award damages to a man who spent a year in a labour camp for an online joke about now disgraced leader Bo Xilai, although experts say compensation, if given, is likely to be low to avoid a flood of new grievances.

Fang Hong, a blogger and former forestry official, said he is demanding 367,000 yuan (S$73,000) for psychological suffering after being sentenced in 2011 to a year of re-education in a labour camp at the height of Bo's campaign against organised crime in the city of Chongqing, where he was Communist Party boss.

"Although there is no precedent for this in China, if you want to rule the country according to the law ... how else can you provide compensation aside from with money?" Fang said in a telephone interview this week.

His conviction was overturned last year, a few months after Bo was sacked under a cloud of lurid tales of corruption and his wife's murder of a British businessman.

Bo's time in office was marked by popular social projects but also a crackdown on crime overseen by his then police chief Wang Lijun, which won him many fans but also accusations of heavy-handedness and serious miscarriages of justice.

Fang was sentenced for posting a scatological poem mocking Bo and Wang for their abuse of the city's justice system, an egregious example critics say of how Bo stifled dissent.

Fang said he was "not necessarily hopeful" that the court would offer him the full amount, but that he expected some money for damages, based on regulations that allow for meagre daily compensation rates for loss of freedom in such cases.

Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong-Kong-based independent human rights researcher, said the risk of emboldening victims of similar cases made the prospect of a large sum being awarded slim.

"I think it is reasonable to expect that the government might impose some limits on compensation claims to keep a control on the flood gates that might open," Rosenzweig said.

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