SCMP Friday, September 1, 2000

Li Peng served with lawsuit


Updated at 8.35am:
Li Peng, the mainland premier at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, was served overnight (HK time) with a civil lawsuit alleging massive human rights abuses occurred after he declared martial law.
The lawsuit, filed under seal on Monday in US District Court in Manhattan, was made public after Mr Li's security personnel received the lawsuit, said Jennie Green, an attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights.
Ms Green said Mr Li, now chairman of the national legislature and the second-most powerful figure in the mainland's Communist Party, could be served because he is visiting New York to attend the Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments at the United Nations this week.
''You bring your crimes with you,'' she said.
Mr Li has been a target of victims of the government crackdown who point out that he went on national television to declare martial law two weeks before a military crackdown killed hundreds of people in June 1989, ending seven weeks of protests.
At the time, the Chinese government described the protests as an attempt to overthrow Communist Party rule. Demands for a government investigation into the crackdown and compensation for victims have been ignored.
A message for comment left overnight with the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan was not immediately returned.
The lawsuit sought unspecified damages on behalf of those who were ''summarily executed, arbitrarily detained and subjected to other gross human rights abuses as a deliberate policy to indiscriminately inflict deadly violence on the civilian population.''
The violence occurred after the Chinese government ordered its military to crush demonstrations it described as a ''counterrevolutionary rebellion'' to protect stability and economic growth.
Mr Li bears responsibility for the crackdown on demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, according to four plaintiffs in the lawsuit who spoke at a news conference overnight.
''We want justice,'' said Feng Suo Zhou, who was jailed for one year on the mainland after he was placed on the ''Most Wanted List'' of student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests. He came to the United States in January 1995.
''We believe justice is on our side, no matter where we are, China or America,'' he said. ''We want justice. This is a first step.''
Liming Zhang, whose sister was shot to death by troops during the crackdown, said he joined the lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of all the victims and their families.
''Over the last year, we have sought redress but have gotten no response,'' he said. ''Eleven years have passed but so far the government has not even issued an apology.''
In May 1999, relatives of people killed and injured during the protests submitted a petition to the mainland's top prosecutor demanding an official investigation of the protests. A year later, they said they had gotten no response while the prosecutor's office said it had not received the letter.
The lawsuit filed in Manhattan said it was relying for legal authority on the Alien Torts Claims Act, which permits claims of torture occurring outside the United States to be heard in US courts.
Lawyers said they hoped to win damages similar to a recent jury award of US$745 million (HK$5.7 billion) to victims of atrocities committed by the soldiers of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
The August 10 verdict in Manhattan came after women testified they were raped repeatedly by Serbian soldiers in a campaign of so-called ''ethnic cleansing.''
During a speech at the United Nations overnight on Thursday, Mr Li said the world would be led astray if certain countries ''attempt to impose their own social system, development model or values on others under various pretexts''.
He said it was the duty of the Presiding Officers of National Parliaments ''to listen to the people, reflect their will and safeguard their legitimate rights and interests.'
He said the mainland in the past two decades had carried out a political structural reform ''to build up democracy and improve the legal system.''
''With respect for and protection of human rights and democracy, our country will achieve sustainable development,'' he said.