WASHINGTON, May 21 (AFP) - China's banned Falungong spiritual group has pounced on a fifth top Chinese official during a visit to the United States, serving him with a writ alleging torture and genocide, activists said Tuesday.
Ding Guangen, a politburo member and head of publicity for the Communist Party's central committee, was served with papers in a hotel in Hawaii last Thursday, on the way home from a visit to Canada.
"As propaganda minister of China, Ding is directly responsible for the deadly propaganda, fabrication and lies to grossly distort Falungong's teachings and slander its founder and students with the purpose of bending public opinion to support the government's persecution of Falungong," said Terri Marsh an attorney working on the case.
Ding faces charges including torture, genocide under Alien Tort Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act, which allows American jurisdiction over acts of torture committed outside the country.
A lawsuit can only proceed, however, if defendants are served with legal papers while in the United States.
Ding is the fifth top Chinese official to be served with such a writ during a visit to the United States.
The court papers were filed on behalf of Frenchwoman Helene Petit, who was arrested in Tiananmen Square during a peaceful protest and expelled on November 21, and three unnamed Chinese plaintiffs.
This case differs from other similar cases in that it is a class action lawsuit, designed to protect the interests of a large group of people, rather than a few individuals, said Morton Sklar, Executive Director of the World Organisation against Torture which is sponsoring the action.
"This case is extremely important because it reaches one of the few people who are directly responsible for the campaign of persecution against Falungong practitioners."
Falungong has already won one previous case, through default, for damages against Zhao Zhifei, Public Security Chief of China's Hubei province, who refused to show up in court to contest charges of torture, murder and crimes against humanity.
The legislation allows jurisdiction over any assets that are held by the named individuals in the United States -- but as it does not provide for jurisdiction over their person and cannot prevent them returning to the country.
But activists say the cases, even if they are not contested, allow victims some restitution and the chance to pursue symbolic justice, as well as putting China on notice that human rights violations will not go unpunished.
Since the Chinese government banned Falungong as an [Jiang Zemin regime's slanderous term omitted] in July 1999, thousands of Falungong members in the country have been tortured, imprisoned and murdered, practitioners say.