China court rejects damages plea from man jailed for Bo joke

BEIJING Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:42pm IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese man sent to a labour camp for a joke about Bo Xilai said he was awarded minimal compensation by a court on Thursday, in what could be a blow to others jailed by the disgraced leader's administration and hoping for substantial damages.

Fang Hong, 46, was sentenced to a year of re-education in 2011 after posting a poem online that mocked Bo and his then police chief Wang Lijun for miscarriages of justice during an anti-crime campaign in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where Bo was Communist Party chief.

But Fang said the court in Chongqing's Dianjiang county rejected his demand for $59,000 in psychological damages for his year in the labour camp. Instead it gave him just $9,200, in the first known case of compensation linked to Bo-era abuses.

It also rejected Fang's plea for a public apology. The blogger and former forestry official was awarded just $26 for each of 351 days he spent in the camp -- a sentence that was overturned last year months after Bo fell.

The court could not be reached immediately for comment.

"This is definitely unfair. The court didn't recognise the mental harm caused. So, this ruling is not just," Fang told Reuters by telephone after the ruling was announced.

Fang said he would ask his lawyers about appealing against the ruling, which is based on national compensation law.

Experts had expected Fang's request for psychological damages to be rejected in an effort to discourage a flood of other claims linked to Bo's hardline policies, which critics argued were also used to stifle dissent.

Bo's career unravelled after Wang fled to a U.S. consulate last February and alleged that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood.

Bo's pursued popular social projects in Chongqing that earned him many fans, but also conducted a crackdown on organised crime overseen by Wang that drew accusations of serious miscarriages of justice.

Fang's case has been seen as a test of how officials will respond to complaints of miscarriages of justice during Bo's tenure.

Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan, who had served with Bo, was quoted by Chongqing media on Thursday as saying courts had "effectively handled all cases and safeguarded social justice".

"Relevant lawsuits involving the government must obey court judgements and absolutely no organization or individual can have privileges that supersede the constitution and the law," he was cited by the official Chongqing Daily as saying.

There are no hard and fast figures on the likely number of cases of legal redress in connection with Bo, but it is possible more will emerge as his downfall is cemented by his own trial and likely conviction.

One prominent lawyer, Chen Youxi, has said over 700 people were convicted as part of Bo's anti-crime gang campaign, including over 70 who were executed.

(Additional reporting by Sally Huang, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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