Spanish criminal court orders arrest warrants against Chinese leaders following Hu Jintao indictment for Tibet policies

Judges in the Spanish National Court today (November 18) ordered warrants of arrest to be issued against five Chinese leaders, including former President and Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, for their policies in Tibet. This ground-breaking development follows the news on October 9 of Hu Jintao’s indictment for genocide in Tibet. In a separate legal ruling also issued today in Madrid, the Spanish National Court also ordered that former leader Hu Jintao is informed of his indictment and sent questions about his policies in Tibet via the Chinese embassy.

The rulings today have positively surprised Spanish legal experts working on the Tibetan law suits upholding the principle of “universal jurisdiction” a part of international law that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terror and other serious international crimes perpetrated by individuals, governments or military authorities. This new development was described to the International Campaign for Tibet by legal experts in Spain as being potentially as significant as the arrest of Pinochet in London in 1998 after a group of Spanish lawyers put together a lawsuit against the Chilean dictator, who presided over a 17-year reign of terror and ordered foreign assassinations.

The orders for arrest warrants are made against five senior Chinese leaders for their involvement in policies in Tibet as follows: Jiang Zemin, former President and Party Secretary; Li Peng, Prime Minister during the repression in Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and the crackdown in Tiananmen); Qiao Shi, former head of Chinese security and responsible for the People¹s Armed Police during the martial law period in Tibet in the late 1980s; Chen Kuiyuan, Party secretary in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 1992 to 2000 (who was known for his hardline position against Tibetan religion and culture), and Peng Peiyun, minister of family planning in the 1990s.

The rulings, which go further than Spanish experts expected and send a strong signal to the Chinese leadership, mean that none of the leaders named, and others too, are likely to take the risk of travelling outside the PRC as they could be arrested for questioning on the crimes they are accused of. All the leaders face the possibility of bank accounts overseas being preventively frozen. In the earlier writ issued on October 9, the judges recognized that this indictment of Hu Jintao comes at the judicial moment “when his diplomatic immunity expires”. (ICT report, China’s former leader Hu Jintao indicted for policies in Tibet by Spanish court).

Today’s ruling was made by the appeals court (Section 4 of the Criminal Court of Spain¹s National Court, the Audiencia Nacional), which is the investigative national court for major crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy, or money laundering. It specifically refers to the “political and criminal responsibility” of the named Chinese leaders for their policies on Tibet and addresses the evidence presented to the court over the past eight years. This includes testimony from former political prisoners, international experts, documentation of killings and torture, and reports by ICT and other organisations. A report by the International Campaign for Tibet, ratified to the judge in Madrid in December 2012, outlined details of the chain of command for specific policies in Tibet from the imposition of martial law leading to torture and a climate of terror, to systematic patriotic education, compelling Tibetans to denounce their exiled leader the Dalai Lama. ICT described how the functions of the Communist Party override those of the Chinese state at all levels.

In making the ruling, the judges were acknowledging that there was ample and specific evidence to issue the order for arrest warrants. Orders of international arrest are carried out by police through Interpol or European Arrest Warrants in the EU and not by governments. The Chinese authorities responded to earlier writs with complaints to the Spanish Courts and government; Beijing has sought to quash the cases through direct intervention with the Spanish government and judiciary.

The Spanish lawyers acting for Spanish NGO Comite de Apoyo al Tibet (CAT) were requested by Court Room No 2 where the genocide lawsuit was lodged to provide a set of questions to former Party leader Hu Jintao about his policies in Tibet. The writ issued last month followed an appeal on July 29 following the judge’s earlier rejection of a request to extend the lawsuit to include former Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao. The appeals court now accepts the argument put forward by the Spanish NGO Comite de Apoyo al Tibet (CAT) for Hu Jintao’s indictment. This includes the period he was Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region in which he presided over the imposition of martial law in 1989, and also his responsibility for policy on Tibet as President and Party Secretary of China after 2003 “due to being the highest ranking person in both the Party and the Government”.

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