Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Intermediate People's Court in Tianjin sentenced Zhou Yongkang to life imprisonment. The former powerful "national security czar" is the first member (current or retired) of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party to end up in prison.
A close associate of former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, he was found guilty of corruption, abuse of power and sale of state secrets. The maximum penalty for the first charge is death, seven years in the case of the other two. Zhou said he would not appeal his conviction.
According to the state-owned Xinhua news agency, there was no public trial because the evidence presented involved state secrets. By contrast, the case against Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing Party boss and rising start who belonged to a faction hostile to current president Xi Jinping, was prominently covered by the media. Thanks in part to his passionate defence, he was able to harness substantial public support.
In Zhou’s case, the court ordered his personal assets to be seized. It also stripped him of all political rights for the rest of his life. It is still unclear what will happen to the member of his family caught up in the scandal and awaiting trial.
In all likelihood, Zhou will serve his sentence in Qincheng prison, in the hills north of Beijing, where all the disgraced Communist leaders are jailed.
"It looks like a five-star hotel,” said prominent dissident Bao Tong, who spent seven years in the prison. “Each cell is large and comfortable, with a soft bed, a sofa, a work desk and a private bathroom". Bao is a former secretary and friend of the late Zhao Ziyang.
Similarly, Dai Qing, daughter of a former People's Liberation Army commander, said, "When I first saw the cell I was pleasantly surprised.”
Prisoners in Qincheng can choose their own clothes, drink milk in the morning and eat from a selection of meals that includes soups and meat. Some of the prison cooks worked in prestigious hotels in the capital.
In addition, the prison was renovated in 2012. A wall was removed to make room for pavilions, trees and manicured lawns.
By comparison, the average Chinese prison is like hell, full of dirt, overcrowded and violent, this according to some former inmates.
The investigation against Zhou began in August 2013, a year after he retired from active political life. It followed President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign "against tigers and flies" after the latter came to power.
The indictment against the former “national security tsar” includes taking large bribes during his tenure as deputy general manager of state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, provincial Communist Party chief in Sichuan, head of the Ministry of Public Security and chief of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
He was a member of the Politburo and touted as Xi Jinping’s successor. His trial will take place in Tianjin, where Zhou Yongkang and Ling Jihua were tried. Both belonged to groups not in step with Xi.