NEW YORK - Four Chinese student dissidents and a man whose sister was killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre are suing Li Peng, the leader of China's parliament, in federal court in New York, accusing him of human rights abuses. The case is the first of its kind in this country against a Chinese official.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal group that specializes in human rights cases.
Among the five plaintiffs, all of whom are living in the United States, are Wang Dan, a prominent student dissident who organized democracy seminars at Beijing University, and Zhang Liming, whose sister was killed by a bullet on the chaotic early morning of June 4, 1989.
Li was attending a conference of world leaders at the United Nations this week and was served with a court summons early yesterday at the Manhattan condominium tower where he was staying .
In a tense confrontation, the summons was handed by a process server to a State Department employee who was guarding Li.
The lawsuit charges Li, who was prime minister during the Tiananmen Square incident, with being ultimately responsible for "crimes against humanity, including summary execution, arbitrary detention, torture and other torts."
"We want to prove that he is accountable for the crime, and that this kind of crime, the human rights violation, is beyond China's borders," said Xiao Qiang, executive director of Human Rights in China, a New York-based group, which brought together the plaintiffs and the lawyers.
There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese Consulate in New York or the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
Dozens of similar lawsuits have been filed in the United States, most of them brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of human rights victims in other countries.
The Chinese government continues to insist that the student-led demonstrations of the spring of 1989 constituted a counterrevolutionary rebellion justifying the military intervention.
"The Chinese perception of this will be that once again we are attempting to interfere in what they view as a domestic matter," said Bob Berring, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley who studies the Chinese legal system.
"I think they would view this as the height of American arrogance. But for the human rights community, they have to seize on an opportunity like this to put human rights issues on the table. It's a purely symbolic act, but that's what they need to get things like this back on the agenda."