Bo Xilai's Unlikely Defenders

In early 2012, as the life of the charismatic Chinese politician Bo Xilai began to unravel in public, a joke made the rounds on the Chinese Internet: Three men meet in prison, and the conversation turns to what crimes they committed. The first one says, "I complained about Bo Xilai, so I was arrested." The second says, "I supported Bo Xilai, so after he fell, I was arrested." The third one says, "I am Bo Xilai!"

Bo was a controversial figure, eliciting strong reactions from those who knew him -- or were the targets or beneficiaries of his many political campaigns. When he fell in March 2012, he took many people with him: government officials, high-ranking military officers, and leftists who supported Bo's brand of Mao-infused politicking.

Bo's trial began on Aug. 22, and will probably last one or two days. According to China's underutilized constitution, Bo should be tried fairly and impartially -- a result that's extremely unlikely.

Still, certain segments of Chinese society are pleading publicly for the courts to treat Bo leniently. His defenders include petitioners, the name given to Chinese who travel -- often great distances -- to appeal to higher authorities for the resolution of the (sometimes imagined) injustices they've incurred.

One human rights advocacy website, June 4th Tianwang, recently posted a photo of 82-year Wang Xiuying standing next to a picture of Bo Xilai, with the words "Fairness and Openness" written upside down. "We think everyone deserves a fair and open trial," Wang's daughter Wang Fengxian told FP in a phone interview on Aug. 21. "Regardless if he's evil or good, if even [Bo] can't get a fair trial, than what about the rest of us?"

Li Xuehui, a 53-year-old petitioner, says he's been sending dozens of people to the provincial capital of Jinan to observe the trial. "Some managed to arrive, but they were caught and immediately sent back," he said in a phone interview with FP. Others managed to make it to the heavily guarded courtroom; on Aug. 21, the Telegraph reported that "around ten protesters held up signs outside the courthouse calling for a fair trial," though it's unclear if they were all petitioners. "We don't have good or bad feelings for Bo Xilai, but we're taking this opportunity to try and make more people pay attention to his case," Li said.

In the photo above, Xiuying smiles grimly and holds a sign that reads, "Fairness starts from him!" Li has a slightly different take. "Fairness is safety," he said. 


Reporter on His Gay-Rights Protest on Russian TV: 'It's a Way to Shame These People'

FP contributor Jamie Kirchick was invited to appear on RT, the Kremlin-funded network, on Wednesday to talk about Bradley Manning, but he wasn't all too interested in the topic. Instead, he decided to mount a vocal protest against Russia's anti-gay laws and media censorship.

The stunt resulted in him getting thrown off the show. Here's the amazing video of his appearance:

In an interview with FP on Wednesday afternoon, Kirchick explained his rationale for hijacking the segment. "I generally have a policy not to go on RT or Press TV or any of these dictatorial channels," he said. "But I had been so energized with all of the news out of Russia about the anti-gay laws that I thought this would be a good stunt to pull." Kirchick is no fan of stations like RT -- which he described as "disturbingly popular" among American youth -- and said that he had previously pulled a similar stunt on Press TV, which is funded by the Iranian government. "I consider it a way to shame these people who call themselves journalists and work at these stations," Kirchick said. "The only justification for anyone who is a Westerner, who lives in a free country, to appear on these stations is to behave in this way and show your utter contempt for them," he added. 

Kirchick did the appearance from a television studio in Stockholm -- the rainbow suspenders were picked up in the bargain bin of a local second-hand clothing store -- and the studio's staff gave him a standing ovation for his performance. As for RT, Kirchick said they of course weren't happy about the stunt. A producer for the channel called Kirchick and informed him that RT wouldn't be paying for his cab ride -- a small price to pay. The channel later called the cab company taking him to the airport and tried to get his driver to leave him on the side of the road. But his cabbie would have none of it and ended up giving him a free ride.

This isn't the first time Kirchick, who is gay, has stuck out his neck for gay rights. In 2010, he reported on Serbia's gay rights movement for FP, an assignment that resulted in a right-wing thug smashing his camera in his face:

About an hour before the [gay pride] rally began, small disturbances began between anti-gay protesters and police just a half-mile or so from the rally. Running toward the noise (which alternated between chants of "Kill, kill, kill the gays" and other crude slogans), I was passed by two police officers, one visibly injured. Moments later, as I tried to take a picture of the ensuing chaos, a screaming hooligan ran up to me, smashing my camera hard into my face. I ran from the scene before I could see what, if anything, the police did to him in response.

The march itself was largely uneventful. It lasted all of about 15 minutes, traveled the length of a few blocks, and competed against a background of sirens and the whirring of a police helicopter. By the time marchers had made their way to a downtown event hall for a party, reports of the violence engulfing Belgrade had begun to penetrate the bubble. "There is fighting all over the city," Jasna Cicmil, a 33-year-old Serbian woman, told me between frequent checks of her cell phone for text messages. "They tried to get into the hospital where injured policemen were put."

As Kirchick has himself pointed out, Russia's anti-gay laws, which prohibit what's described as propaganda encouraging non-traditional relationships, have resulted in all kinds of strange alliances on the American right. Social conservatives have embraced Vladimir Putin's anti-gay push, but now anti-Russian conservatives are faced with the conundrum of whether to embrace the most memorable protest in RT's history, which just happens to have been carried out by a gay journalist.