A federal judge has handed a victory to Falun Gong practitioners by allowing them to proceed with a lawsuit accusing diplomatic missions of the People’s Republic of China of waging a campaign of intimidation and violence against the meditative sect on American soil.
The case, filed in 2002, claims that “thugs” hired by Chinese officials committed various crimes, including the burglary of the apartment of a Falun Gong follower in New York and the firebombing of the car of an adherent in Chicago. “It was destroyed simply because he had Falun Gong posters in the back,” an attorney for the sect members, Martin McMahon, said.
In a 19-page ruling, Judge Ricardo Urbina said most of the claims made against the Chinese ministries of state security and public security were barred by sovereign immunity. However, he said the allegation that the Chinese government hired goons to intimidate opponents in America could be pursued because the alleged payment of those workers is an economic activity that can be the subject of litigation in American courts.
“Until the defendant provides some countervailing evidence or argument indicating that this alleged commercial act (the negligent hiring of dangerous thugs) is subsumed within sovereign immunity, the court rules that it is not,” Judge Urbina, who sits in Washington, wrote. The judge also said the Falun Gong members could proceed with their claim that China’s state-owned television network, CCTV, forced a Washington-area television station to drop a program produced by members of the sect.
Another lawyer for the Falun Gong followers, Lisa Angelo, said she was “very pleased” with the judge’s decision because similar lawsuits filed in other American courts have been tossed out. “This might be the only complaint that has stuck,” she said.
A spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a phone message seeking comment for this article. The Chinese government has outlawed Falun Gong as an “evil cult” and has blamed the group for brainwashing its members.
The Chinese ministries and CCTV never filed a formal response to the complaint, which was translated into Chinese and served through established diplomatic procedures. However, a group identifying itself as the China Society of Private International Law sent the court two legal briefs urging the dismissal of the case.
While Judge Urbina allowed the lawsuit to proceed, he also expressed doubt that the plaintiffs will be able to prove that Chinese officials directed any acts of violence that occurred. He noted that the complaint does not name the alleged perpetrators, but refers to them with phrases such as “John Doe Thugs” and “a Chinese male holding a bolt cutter.”
“The court wonders how the plaintiffs plan to support these allegations, perhaps by deposing the ‘unknown individual,’ and waits with baited breath to review the transcript,” the judge wrote.
Lawyers for the victims of the alleged violence said the normal next step would be to ask the defendants to identify the employees involved. However, since the Chinese agencies have not officially responded to the complaint, that route is unlikely to be productive.