SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST (Hong Kong), REUTERS, WALL STREET JOURNAL (USA), ASAHI SHIMBUN (Japan)
BEIJING - Wang Lijun, former mayor and head of police in the Sichuan city of Chongqing, was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for corruption and attempting to defect for his role in one of the most damaging political scandals to hit China in a generation.
The guilty verdict was not a surprise, but the sentence was much lighter than the life sentence or death penalty that some had expected. The sentence was reduced because Wang -- also a member of the Chinese People’s Congress -- had “rendered a service” and “exposed clues of major law-breaking and crimes by others,” according to Reuters report on the court's ruling.
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“Why such a light sentence?” --"Jasmine Revolution" on Twitter
Until his spectacular flight to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February 2012 made headlines around the world, Wang Lijun, an ethnic Mongol, was perhaps the most famous policeman in China, the right-hand man of Sichuan provincial party chief Bo Xilai; Bo himself may have been in line to become the new No. 2 man in China at the party meeting in Beijing this October. The Wall Street Journal reports that the meeting continues to be postponed.
But Wang’s flight was the opening salvo in a series of blows to Bo’s leadership. Bo had been admired and widely praised for his “hit hard” crackdown on gangs, crime, and corruption in Chongqing, with Wang’s aid. He was also feared for his disregard of suspects’ legal rights and was accused of cronyism by some critics who were safely far away in Beijing.
Bo was removed from his position in March of this year, after the international press reported Wang’s allegations that Bo’s wife Gu Kailai, a prominent international lawyer, had ordered the murder of a British man who had threatened to reveal her business dealings. The death of longtime China resident and British expatriate Neil Heywood, which occurred in November 2011, had previously been labeled alcohol poisoning by the Chinese police under Wang Lijun.
Wang Lijun’s dramatic flight, apparently in fear for his life, suddenly shone a light on the incident, and Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai came under heightened scrutiny. International press probes quickly turned up more than one hundred million dollars in business dealings associated with the Bo and Gu families.
Heywood is said to have helped their son, Bo Guagua, to go to expensive British preparatory school Harrow and then Oxford in England, and subsequently to Harvard. In spite of Bo Xilai’s modest salary in Sichuan, and Gu Kailai’s lack of a job since 2007, Guagua was known to his fellow students as a spendthrift “princeling” who drove fast cars and was not a good student, Asahi Shimbun reports.
Bo and his wife were hastily removed from power. Wang Lijun, meanwhile, left the American consulate under guard after intense negotiations, and was put on trial. He said that he had told the truth to the Americans: Heywood was murdered at the orders of Bo’s wife, the murder was covered up, and that he himself feared for his life because of what he knew.
Reportedly Wang said at the trial that when he tried to tell his boss, Bo, that Gu had murdered the Briton, Bo had covered his ears. Fearing for his life, Wang then fled to Chengdu, where his inconvenient arrival embarrassed everyone, including the Americans.
Behind the scenes, the affair is also a struggle between left and right wings of the Chinese leadership. Bo Xilai, who had cracked down hard on wealthy businessmen and was considered an admirer of harder-line communism, was feared by many proponents of a more Westernized approach. His difficulties have been a boon for them. Gu was given a suspended death sentence in August, effectively a sentence of life imprisonment.
However, Bo has still not been accused of any crime. Wang’s light sentence (he may be eligible for parole after serving half of it) has also encouraged Bo’s supporters to think the party will not be severe.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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