The Rule of Law Takes Precedence Over Governmental Pressure: The Lawsuit Against Chen Zhili
(Clearwisdom.net) Chen Zhili, the former Minister of Education and currently a member of the State Council, had to make a mandatory court appearance recently in Tanzania on July 19, 2004. She was served with a lawsuit during her visit to Tanzania by a team of international human rights lawyers who are representing Falun Gong practitioners being persecuted in China.
In contrast to other Chinese officials who received subpoenas while overseas but quickly left their visiting country and returned to China, Chen Zhili was the first highly ranked visiting Chinese state official who could not find any excuse to escape and had to appear in a foreign court.
According to a report from the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, during Chen Zhili's term as Minister of Education she instilled the motto, "Hatred and persecution of Falun Gong is justified," into the educational system. She is personally responsible for the arrest of large numbers of students and teachers who practice Falun Gong. Sixty-one of those arrested practitioners died as a result of torture. All these torture deaths, disappearances, expulsion from school and illegal detentions constitute grievous human rights violations.
There is no information at present regarding how Chen Zhili or the Chinese government have responded to this lawsuit. Similar lawsuits overseas against Chinese government officials are on the increase. All of the defendants are either personally responsible for torture deaths of Falun Gong practitioners or are suspected of involvement in the persecution. The most widely known of these lawsuits is the one against former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, which is still pending in a U.S. court in Chicago.
Although Jiang Zemin has taken the position to "stifle the lawsuit at all costs, including through diplomatic means," the Chinese government has so far remained silent regarding the lawsuit against Chen Zhili. A possible explanation might be that the Chinese government hopes to make behind-the-scene deals with the Tanzanian government while trying its best to keep a low profile.
The "diplomatic means" with which the Chinese government employs to stop such lawsuits in fact involve the use of financial interests or financial exchanges to influence the judicial system.
Although legal concepts and explanations of justice differ in various countries, most developed countries agree on an independent legal system, which is the basis for guaranteeing justice before the courts.
Because of the Chinese one-party system, the Chinese legal system differs greatly from other countries in the world. High-ranking government officials can override any law; they can issue documents, decree orders or use their political power to pressure the legal branch into submission to their will.
A recent case in Canada reveals the widespread mentality of the average Chinese government official towards the rule of law. Pan Xinchun, the Chinese Deputy Counsel General in Toronto was fined for attacking a local Falun Gong practitioner in a Toronto newspaper. However, Pan didn't respond to the court's subpoena(s), the verdict or the eventual garnishment order, and he even closed his Canadian bank account to avoid paying the court-ordered fine. The Chinese government also "hoped the Canadian government would intervene" through the defendant's attorney, and claimed that the incident would "affect the relations between the two countries."
The Chinese government failed to recognize the fundamental difference between the Chinese legal system and its Canadian counterpart. The often-practiced "political intervention in legal justice" would be a scandalous outrage in a country based on the rule of law, such as Canada.
Tanzania, a small African country, receives significant financial aid and support for its infrastructure. For instance, several tens of thousands of technical workers including engineers, have participated in the construction of the TAZARA -- the Tanzania-Zambia Railway. The Tanzanian government also has technical agreements and receives loans from the Chinese government on more than 100 projects, including its railroads, mines, agricultural endeavors, the textile industry and sugar mills. Might political and financial considerations assert an influence on the legal system? The Chen Zhili case presently in the Tanzanian court is indeed a test for the integrity of Tanzania's legal system.
The quick response from the Tanzanian court regarding the lawsuit brought against Chen Zhili greatly encourages less powerful victims. The legal system stood up to and proceeded with the investigation where the government does not dare to confront an official from a "patron country." This court has demonstrated that a person is not arrested simply because he or she is just an ordinary citizen, nor is a person immune from justice simply because he or she is an official from a country with which they have economic "agreements." To a certain extent, this court action has put into practice the tenet "equality before the law."
In terms of having the power to exercise the law independently, the Chinese legal system is in a sad state of affairs. The Chinese judicial departments do not have the courage or the capability to take legal actions and accept lawsuits against heads of state. That is one reason why, when Jiang blocked all channels of appeal for Falun Gong practitioners, no lawyer or judge in Mainland China dares to protect the victims, nor will they help citizens who have been wronged to restore their rights.
When overseas Falun Gong practitioners have filed lawsuits against visiting Chinese ruling party heads, the Chinese government often demanded of the foreign government to intervene and to terminate the lawsuit, warning that such a lawsuit would "dampen the relations between the two countries." Nonetheless, the fact that numerous lawsuits were filed makes it obvious that these "warnings" are pale and powerless. The majority of nations in the world are based on a multi-party system and on some form of democracy, which is completely different from the one-party dictatorship in China. This explains why the Chinese Party elite often clashes with universally acknowledged legal precedents and makes inappropriate requests, such as "governmental intervention" in legal affairs. At the same time it is difficult for Chinese officials to adjust to the differences in ideology, such as the previously mentioned Pan Xinchun, who was convicted of libel but refused to comply with his sentencing.
Falun Gong practitioners around the world are gradually cornering those Chinese officials responsible for the persecution, by following just and independent international legal procedures, backed by crucial evidence. Although the persecution in Mainland China has not yet ended, the condemnation and legal judgment from the international community are sounding a clear warning to the Chinese heads of state.
The Chen Zhili lawsuit is still in progress. More important than the outcome, is the fact that this lawsuit will alert people to the atrocities of the persecution; those in the court, in the public and in other foreign governments will become widely aware of what is going on in Mainland China. The more people learn the truth, the more difficult it will be for the Chinese government to sustain the persecution. In other words, the significance of the facts and circumstances related to this lawsuit far exceed the suit itself.