Since 1999, practitioners of Falun Gong in China have been detained, tortured, sent to labor “re-education” camps without trial, illegally incarcerated in mental institutions, and even killed while in police custody. In 2002, CJA joined the effort to help end China’s state-sponsored repression of Falun Gong practitioners by filing suit against Liu Qi, the former mayor of Beijing.
Tens of millions in China practice Falun Gong, but the practice came to be regarded as a threat to the Chinese state in 1999 when 10,000 of its practitioners staged a silent protest at the Communist party’s headquarters to complain about attacks on its members. Following the protest, the Chinese government branded Falun Gong as an “evil cult” and outlawed it.
The freedom of religion or belief is a well-established norm of customary international law. However, in China, anyone practicing religious observance outside the officially sanctioned channels face violence at the hands of the state.
In 2002, when CJA received information that Liu Qi, the former mayor of Beijing, would be visiting San Francisco, we quickly consulted with human rights activists working on China. We were advised that Liu Qi held authority over the Beijing police forces responsible for taking brutal measures against Falun Gong practitioners.
During Liu Qi’s tenure in office, CJA’s clients—all practitioners of Falun Gong—were beaten, sexually assaulted, and tortured with use of electric shocks and forced feedings, by Beijing police officers under Liu Qi’s control.
Not only did Liu Qi fail to comply with his duty under international law to take reasonable measures to stop or prevent torture committed by his police officers, he authorized and even incited police forces to violently repress the Falun Gong movement. At one public rally in 1999, Mayor Liu declared that he would “resolutely smash” the Falun Gong.
CJA filed a complaint against the former mayor with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. CJA served Liu Qi with the complaint as he arrived at San Francisco International airport on route to the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Liu Qi failed to appear in court but after considering statements of interest filed by the U.S. and Chinese governments, the court entered default judgment: Liu Qi was charged with overseeing the torture, arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of CJA’s clients.