DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It has been more than a year since a man named Bo Xilai was making a lot of news. The high-flying Chinese politician was detained on charges of abuse of power and corruption. Since then, his wife has been found guilty of murdering a British businessman and his former police chief is serving a 15 year sentence. During Bo Xilai's time as party boss in the city of Chongqing, he launched a crackdown on gangsters and that campaign is now coming under scrutiny. NPR's Louisa Lim has been talking to some of his victims.
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: It was 5 PM on an ordinary Tuesday, and Li Ping was finishing up the company accounts before going to have a facial. She was working for her brother, Li Qiang, who owned one of the biggest private transport companies in Chongqing. Suddenly, five plainclothes policemen barged into the room. They asked her name, then put a black hood over her head and drove her to a secret interrogation site. Her ordeal had begun.
LI PING: (Through interpreter) I sat on a chair 24 hours a day. My hands were cuffed and my feet fettered. I sat there for seven days. I wouldn't let them take the hood off because when I was wearing it, I could doze off and they couldn't see.
LIM: Unbeknownst to her, her brother, Li Qiang, was undergoing the same treatment. Even though he was a millionaire and a politician, a Chongqing city People's Congress member, he spent 81 days handcuffed in a metal chair. His arrest was a major one in Bo Xilai's highly publicized campaign against gangsters.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LIM: This campaign was called Fight the Black and was celebrated in song. That was the other plank of Bo's reign, using public rallies to sing communist or red songs, a method that haunt back to the days of Chairman Mao. For the victims, there were other similarities to the lawless days of Mao. Punishment wasn't limited to the individual; whole clans went down. In Li Qiang's case, six other family members were put on trial and dozens in his inner circle.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: The case was a monster. Thirty-one people were in the dock in October 2009. The state had marshaled 18 hundred pieces of evidence against Li Qiang. He'd only been allowed to see his lawyer twice. His sister was also on trial.
PING: (Through interpreter) At the sentencing, I heard that my big brother got 20 years, and my husband got 18 years. Then my tears started to flow.
LIM: She was jailed for 18 months for hiding company accounts. After being released, she found that most of the family's assets had been confiscated. Some of this happened during the investigation, not after the verdict was handed down as the law demands. The family's transport company has been taken over by the local government.
Four members of the family are still in jail. They're appealing.
PING: (Through interpreter) We just want to restore the truth. If we did break the law, it should be handled properly. But if the gangster label is removed, then financial compensation is a natural thing.
LIM: Everyone in Chongqing tells one story about why this happened to this family. Soon after Bo Xilai arrived, he was speaking at a meeting when he was interrupted by Li Qiang. You've not been here long, Li said. You don't understand the situation. Let me speak. Those words may have sealed his fate. In fighting gangsters, Bo Xilai used their methods, according to one retired Chongqing journalist, Han Pingzao.
HAN PINGZAO: (Through interpreter) These are mafia tactics. A totalitarian dictatorship uses these methods against so-called enemies. It's not just directed against you. It's also against generations of your family and people linked with you.
LIM: Another victim of the campaign is Wen Jiahao. He spent 10 months in detention while his father, the former head of the Chongqing justice bureau, Wen Qiang, was being investigated. Wen Jiahao was not allowed to see a lawyer and his family was not told where he was being held, both violations of the law. He was put in a cell with rapists and murderers, and made to do forced labor. Ten months later, he was released without charge, but his assets have not all been returned, even though those who put him in prison are now themselves in prison.
WEN JIAHAO: (Through interpreter) The mistakes aren't over, just because they have been sentenced and sacked. I think they should give us an explanation.
LIM: His mother is serving eight years while his father was executed for corruption and sheltering gangsters. Wen does not dispute that his father was guilty of corruption, but he believes the punishment was disproportionate and the execution carried out too quickly without proper legal process. He questions the initial reports that police had found $3 million his father had hidden in a fish pond.
Now, he says, the authorities are making it hard for him to reopen the case.
JIAHAO: (Through interpreter) This statement of more than $3 million hidden in a fish pond sounds like a fairy tale. The whole case happened when I was in detention. They won't let me see the case materials. They won't even show me my father's judgment.
LIM: The bare facts of his father's last day are troubling, too.
WEN QIANG: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: Here is his father refusing to be interviewed. He says he can't talk because he's preparing for a court hearing. He clearly has no idea he'll be executed that day. Two hours later, when Jiahao was taken to visit his father, they talked for 15 minutes, they hugged and that was it. The Supreme Court had already confirmed the death penalty. But Wen Jiahao was told the opposite.
JIAHAO: (Through interpreter) I asked if the Supreme Court had reviewed my father's death penalty. They said, no. They lied to me. Then, afterward, someone told me my father's death penalty had been carried out. I was astonished.
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LIM: This was clearly personal and political. That much is clear from the firecrackers celebrating his father's death. Banners outside government buildings read Wen Qiang is dead, Chongqing is safe, the people are happy.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: He should have been killed, this man said on the news. If this kind of person isn't executed, the country won't be stable. Wen Jiahao, however, is comforted by is his father's last message.
JIAHAO: (Through interpreter) He said not to hate the government and society. He said history would prove everything. At first, I thought that would take a very long time, but history has proven everything. The senior policemen were criminals, and their campaign against gangsters was political in nature.
(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking foreign language)
LIM: This is a recording of his father's sentencing. The judge says "the facts are clear, the sentence is correct and the procedure is legal." Three years on, questions are being raised about all of these. Bo Xilai ruled Chongqing like a medieval fiefdom. His anti-mafia campaign sent almost 1,300 people through the courts.
A handful of these sentences have been overturned. Most are still waiting for justice. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.