SAN FRANCISCO (FDI) – Falun Gong practitioners and human rights advocates have scored another victory in U.S. District Courts.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco recently denied foreign sovereign immunity to Beijing Party Secretary and former Beijing Mayor Liu Qi and Deputy Governor of Liaoning Province Xia Deren. In a report Judge Chen submitted to the Court, both Chinese officials were found guilty of overseeing the torture of practitioners of Falun Gong.
The recommendation to the U.S. District Court by Judge Chen follows a December 2001 court ruling in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York against Zhao Zhifei, chief of police and second-in command of the 6-10 Office in Hubei Province. In this case, the first in the U.S. against a Chinese official for persecuting Falun Gong, the judge ordered a default judgment against Zhao Zhifei and awarded nominal damages to the plaintiffs, which could include the punitive and declaratory damages sought by the plaintiffs.
On October 18, 2002, a fourth lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, against former Chinese Communist leader, Jiang Zemin, and the 6-10 Office. Specific causes of action pleaded in the complaint include torture, genocide, and crimes against humanity as well as conspiracy to commit violations of civil rights against Falun Gong within the jurisdiction of the U.S. (special report / full text of complaint)
A U.S. District Court judge in Chicago is currently reviewing legal arguments for the lawsuit against Jiang.
All four Chinese officials were sued under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victims Protection Act, which allow U.S. and foreign citizens to take legal action in U.S. courts in an effort to stop foreign perpetrators of torture and other serious human rights abuses.
Human rights attorney Terri Marsh, who is the attorney of record for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Jiang and who also filed the initial suit against Zhao Zhifei, sees significance in the recent court decisions in California.
“The California cases, while still pending on some issues, demonstrate that sitting officials cannot claim immunity from suit and penalties for their crimes against humanity,” says Ms. Marsh. “No one is above the law.”
The civil suit against Jiang has drawn support from members of the U.S. Congress. On June 10th, thirty-nine members of the House of Representatives submitted an Amicus Brief (full text) to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The brief was sponsored by Tom Lantos (D-CA), the Co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus and ranking democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee. (news)
“As members of the U.S. Congress… we have a significant and abiding interest in this lawsuit,” the brief states. “Indeed, international law makes clear that individuals that are responsible for gross violations of human rights may be subject to prosecution even if they were heads of state at the time that the offenses occurred."