CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by China’s banned Falun Gong spiritual movement accusing former President Jiang Zemin of waging a campaign designed to suppress the group.
U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, in a decision late Friday, held that as a foreign leader Jiang is immune from such a lawsuit.
Kennelly based his decision on the doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” a tradition under which courts exempt foreign leaders from civil lawsuits in the United States if the federal government deems it advisable.
“The court recognizes defendant Jiang Zemin’s head-of-state immunity and dismisses the claims against him,” Kennelly said in a 24-page ruling. Falun Gong has attracted millions of followers with a mixture of calisthenics and doctrines drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the ideas of its founder, Li Hongzhi, a former government clerk.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999, describing it as an “evil cult.” It has arrested many Falun Gong followers. Practitioners say a number of them have been tortured and in some cases murdered.
The Chinese government denies killing anyone but says some detainees have died from hunger strikes or after refusing medical attention.
In October 2002, while Jiang was visiting Chicago, a police official guarding him was served with the lawsuit, which also named as a defendant a Chinese agency it described as the Falun Gong Control Office.
The lawsuit cataloged an array of alleged human rights abuses, including torture, genocide and arbitrary imprisonment. It said a number of practitioners now living in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States had been subjected to such tactics.
Neither Jiang nor the Chinese government responded to the suit. Instead, the U.S. government intervened as a friend of the court, arguing that the suit should be dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity.
Kennelly also dismissed the allegations against the Falun Gong Control Office, saying none were closely tied to Illinois. Falun Gong attorney Teri Marsh of Washington said she was exploring options for keeping the case alive, such as asking Kennelly to reconsider.
“The judge is a highly respected jurist with a fine legal mind and a good heart,” she said. She said that his ruling was on “technical issues — he’s not saying that there’s not a genocide going on in China.”
“My real concern is the genocide and torture going on in China,” she said. “But how to get that topic into the American public discussion, I don’t know.”
While the lawsuit was pending, dozens of Falun Gong practitioners would periodically appear in Federal Plaza across the street from the courthouse in Chicago’s Loop and engage peacefully in group calisthenics.