Court ruling ends long legal fight in Chinese torture case

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FILE – In this Sept. 22, 2005 file photo, Chen Gang, formerly of Beijing, China, leaves U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn. Gang was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Chinese citizens against Zhao Zhizhen, a Chinese television and radio executive they accuse of inciting torture against them because they were followers of Falun Gong. A federal appeals court ruling in New York on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, rejected a request by members of the movement to file an amended lawsuit. (AP Photo/Bob Child, File)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruling Tuesday ended a 15-year-old legal fight in the U.S. over whether a Chinese television official incited torture in his country against members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected a request by members of the movement to file an amended lawsuit in the case. The ruling comes six years after a federal judge in Connecticut dismissed the case, citing lack of jurisdiction.

Zhao Zhizhen, a onetime radio and television executive in China who founded the China Anti-Cult Association, was sued in 2004 in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute, an 18th-century U.S. law that allows foreigners to sue in the U.S. over human rights abuses committed anywhere. He was also sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act.

Zhao denied allegations in the lawsuit that he incited torture through programming on both state-run television in China and the internet that called for the eradication of Falun Gong.

Bruce Rosen, a New Jersey lawyer representing Zhao, said the case was “one of the last of a dozen unsuccessful cases brought by the Falun Gong against Chinese officials in the U.S. to try to embarrass them and find them civilly guilty of horrendous crimes.”

“This was a libel suit disguised as a torture case,” Rosen said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Terri Marsh, executive director and senior litigation partner of the Washington-based Human Rights Law Foundation.She once compared Zhao to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. She said Tuesday that an appeal is not planned.

“We’re very disappointed,” Marsh said. “Propagandists like Zhao are liable under both international law and ordinary tort standards where they substantially contribute to the crime, as Zhao did here. In fact his acts were pivotal.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit included Chen Gang, Zou Wenbo and other Chinese citizens who say they were detained and tortured by Chinese security forces because they were followers of Falun Gong. They say they were shocked with electric batons, handcuffed to beds while their bodies were stretched in opposite directions, and hung from ceilings with handcuffs.

China has outlawed Falun Gong and its beliefs, which include traditional Chinese calisthenics and philosophy drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the often-unorthodox teachings of founder Li Hongzhi.

Upholding a decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny in Hartford, the federal appeals court judges said the plaintiffs failed to directly connect Zhao to the torture in arguments supporting their request to file an amended lawsuit.

“For example,” the ruling on Tuesday said, “plaintiffs failed to allege that Zhao directly participated in the torture, ordered any Chinese police or prison guards to carry out the torture, or assisted in the torture in any way, other than creating a propaganda polemic expressing anti‐Falun Gong sentiments that some officials used in carrying out Chinese torture practices targeting Falun Gong members.”

Zhao was served with the lawsuit in 2004 while he was in Connecticut for his daughter’s graduation from Yale University.

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