BEIJING -- Left-leaning supporters of ousted Chinese leader Bo Xilai are raising questions about last month's tightly orchestrated trial that convicted his wife of murder, saying the legal process has been hijacked to purge Bo for political reasons.
Bo supporters say they have uncovered evidence that the person who stood trial was not Bo's wife, pointing to what they say is an incorrect birthdate cited in official media.
Such claims are usually widely dismissed but they point to enduring support for the disgraced populist leader that the Communist Party must be mindful of as it decides on Bo's fate. Last month, a court gave his wife, Gu Kailai, a suspended death sentence – usually commuted to life in prison – for killing a British former business associate.
"Clearly, to me, what this whole Bo Xilai thing represents is that it's easy to eradicate Bo himself and end his political life but what Bo Xilai represents is not just his own position. He was considered in recent years the spiritual leader of this leftist ideology," said Warren Sun, a historian and expert on the Chinese leadership at Australia's Monash University.
The main proponent of this theory, a former college teacher, has posted an open letter online urging China's highest court to declare the trial invalid.
The birthdate controversy adds to many questions already surrounding the trial, including omissions of details about the timing of events, the absence of testimony from Bo, and unproven rumors that a body double was used in Gu's place.
Wang Zheng, the former teacher, showed The Associated Press what she said was an official police registration of Gu's personal details, which showed that she was born in 1963, and not 1958, as official media reports have stated. The record did not bear any official letterhead, but Wang said that was because she edited it to protect the source of the information.
Wang's claim could not be independently verified. Calls to the court in Hefei, where the trial was held, rang unanswered. A family member confirmed Gu was born in 1963 but Shen Zhigeng, a lawyer hired by Gu's mother, said the 1958 birthdate announced in court was correct. Asked to comment on suggestions the woman who stood trial was not Gu, Shen said: "Nonsense!"
Still, the questions underscore lingering support for Bo months after he disappeared from public sight in March. Bo remains under investigation by the ruling party's disciplinary branch for unspecified grave violations of discipline.
Bo amassed a big public following as party boss of the mega-city of Chongqing. His reputation for cracking down on organized crime and championing social fairness and communist nostalgia made him popular among poorer Chinese and those who identify themselves as leftists.
Many of his supporters are part of a movement known as the "new left," whose members want a more egalitarian, populist authoritarianism. They include Han Deqiang, founder of a leftist website recently blocked by Chinese censors.
"In my view, what happened is that Bo Xilai started promoting another type of political model which was drastically different from what the leadership was promoting," Han said. "He wanted to focus on improving people's livelihood and promote wealth sharing. This of course is opposed to the direction where China is now heading."