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Falun Gong asks court to reinstate lawsuit against Jiang Zemin

An attorney for China's banned Falun Gong spiritual movement urged a federal appeals court Thursday to reinstate a lawsuit accusing former Chinese President Jiang Zemin of waging a campaign of torture and genocide against the group.

Attorney Terri Marsh argued that Jiang should not be considered immune simply because he was a head of state when the lawsuit was filed in 2002.

"Dismissal of this case would dismantle the entire framework of Nuremburg," Marsh said after arguing before a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

But Douglas Letter, appellate litigation counsel for the Department of Justice, said the lower court acted correctly in throwing out the lawsuit because a visiting head of state cannot be sued in this country.

"They're like diplomats," Letter said.

The court did not indicate when it would rule.

Falun Gong, banned in China since 1999, has sued Chinese officials in more than a dozen foreign courts, typically applying laws such as the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act to crimes allegedly committed in China.

U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly threw out the Chicago lawsuit last year after the U.S. government intervened as a friend of the court, arguing it should be dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity. Under that doctrine, courts can exempt foreign leaders from civil lawsuits in the United States if the government advises.

The lawsuit cataloged an array of alleged human rights abuses, including torture, genocide and arbitrary imprisonment. It said a number of Falun Gong followers now living in the United States had been subjected to such tactics.

Neither Jiang nor the Chinese government responded to the lawsuit.

Jiang was visiting Chicago in October 2002 when a police official guarding him was served with the lawsuit. The lawsuit also named as a defendant a Chinese agency it described as the Falun Gong Control Office.

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.

Since China banned the group, describing it as an "evil cult," practitioners say followers have been arrested, 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.

May 27, 2004

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