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Jane Doe I, et al. v. Liu Qi, et al.

Court United States District Court for the Northern District of California, United States
Case number C 02 - 0672 CW (EMC)
Decision title Default Judgment
Decision date 8 December 2004
  • Jane Doe I
  • Jane Doe II
  • Helene Petit
  • Martin Larsson
  • Leeshai Lemish
  • Roland Odar
  • Liu Qi
Categories Torture
Keywords Torture; Act of State Doctrine; Alien Tort Claims Act; Falun Gong; illegal detention; (sovereign) immunity; Torture Victims Protection Act
Other countries involved
  • China
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The plaintiffs, Jane Doe I, Jane Doe II, Helene Petit, Martin Larsson, Leeshai Lemish, and Roland Odar, all practitioners of Falun Gong, were beaten, sexually assaulted and tortured by police forces in the period before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

On 7 February 2002, the plaintiffs brought a claim against Liu Qi, who was the mayor of Beijing at that time. The plaintiffs accused him of failing to supervise and discipline the police officers who offended them. In addition, they claimed that Qi also formulated a policy that authorised such offences and incited police forces to violently repress the Falun Gong religious movement.

Qi did not reply or appear after he was served with the complaint. As a result, the plaintiffs filed a request for default judgment (a judgment issued as a result of defendant’s failure to respond). On 8 December 2004, the District Court entered a default judgment against Qi upholding only the claims of Doe I, Doe II, and Petit.

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Procedural history

On 7 February 2002, Jane Doe I, Jane Doe II, Helene Petit, Martin Larsson, Leeshai Lemish, and Roland Odar, all practitioners of Falun Gong, brought a civil action against Liu Qi, the Mayor of Beijing at that time. The plaintiffs accused Qi of planning, instigating, ordering, authorising, or inciting police and other security forces to commit torture and persecution. In addition, they also accused him of having command or superior responsibility over the forces, and of controlling or aiding and abetting them in the commission of the abuses. The crimes were allegedly committed as part of a widespread or systematic campaign against Falun Gong practitioners in the People’s Republic of China. Plaintiffs brought the complaint under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), and claimed both compensatory and punitive damages. Qi was served with the complaint at San Francisco International Airport.

On 1 May 2002, Magistrate Ed Chen requested briefing on several issues, including whether the case was barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and if it should be declared non-justiciable under the Act of State Doctrine. Both the Chinese government and the U.S. State Department issued opinions stating that the case should be dismissed, inter alia, because it would most likely have a negative impact on the relation between the two states. Moreover, the U.S. State Department argued that the case should be dismissed under the Act of State Doctrine as ‘U.S. courts should be cautious when asked to sit judgment on the acts of foreign officials taken within their own countries pursuant to their government’s policy’ (p. 7).

Following Qi’s failure to respond or to appear, the plaintiffs filed a request for default judgment on 11 June 2003.

On 28 October 2004, Judge Chen issued his Report and Recommendation. According to the Report, Qi violated Chinese law as he acted outside the scope of his authority even though his acts were “authorized” by a covert unofficial government policy of torture. As a result, Qi did not enjoy sovereign immunity under the FSIA because it only shields officials acting within the scope of their authority. In addition, Judge Chen held that the Act of State Doctrine was not applicable and that a declaratory judgment against Qi would ‘alleviate any foreign policy concerns’.

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Legally relevant facts

Liu Qi was mayor of Beijing in the period 1999-2003. He was also Head of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee.

During his ruling, practitioners of the Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline in China, were detained and subjected to torture. In addition, the police used beatings, electric clubs, electric needles, shackles, starvation, and other forms of torture and humiliation to terrorise practitioners and, in many instances, to extract information, confessions, and disavowals of belief in Falun Gong practices and principles.

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Core legal questions

Did Liu Qi enjoy sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act?

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Court's holding and analysis

On 8 December 2004, the District Court entered a default judgment against Liu Qi. The Court declared that Qi had violated the rights of Doe I and Doe II to be free from torture and arbitrary detention, and the right of Petit to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (p. 1).

The Court dismissed the claims of the other plaintiffs.

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Further analysis

Affidavit of International Law Professors and Religious Freedom Experts Regarding the Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief’, 3 July 2002.

Affidavit of International Law Scholars on the Status of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Crimes Against Humanity, and Arbitrary Detention under International Law’, 3 July 2002.

Affidavit of Paul Marshall’, 3 July 2002.

Affidavit of Professor Jordan J. Paust’, 3 July 2002.

Affidavit of Robert C. Berring’, 3 July 2002.

Declaration of Andrew J. Nathan’, 30 December 2002.

M. J. Leavy, ‘Discrediting Human Rights Abuse as an Act of State: A Case Study on the Repression of the Falun Gong in China and Commentary on International Human Rights Law in U.S. Courts’, Rutgers Law Journal, 2003-2004, Vol. 35, pp. 749-842.

M. S. Clarens, ‘Deference, Human Rights and the Federal Courts: The Role of the Executive in Alien Tort Statute Litigation’, Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law, 2006-2007, Vol. 17, pp. 415-440.

E. Nesossi, ‘Civil Litigation for Violations of International Human Rights Law: The Case of the Falun Gong under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789’, The Journal of Comparative Law, 2009, Vol. 4, pp. 44-62.

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials

Beijing Mayor, Olympic Committee President served U.S. law suit for persecution of Falun Gong’, Independent Media Center, 8 February 2002.

Lawsuit against Beijing mayor shows Falungong not forgotten’, Agence France- Presse, 10 February 2002.

B. Snyder, ‘Suit targets Beijing mayor’, Deseret News, 11 February 2002.

China Reacts Negatively to Lawsuit Against Beijing Mayor for Serious Human Rights Violations ‘, The Center for Justice & Accountability, 12 February 2002.

Falun Gong advocates praise judge’s ruling’, SF Gate, 6 July 2003.

W. H. Taft, ‘Letter from Legal Adviser William H. Taft re U.S. views in Doe v. Liu Qi (Northern District of California, August 3, 2004)’, U.S. Department of State, 3 August 2004.

A. Thomas, ‘Israel welcomes Chinese criminal against humanity’, Middle East Times, 22 November 2006.

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Social media links

Falun Gong turns to international courts’, Religion News Blog, 26 September 2003.

S. Nasiripour, ‘Beijing Olympic Chief Linked to Torture’, The Center for Investigative Reporting, 23 April 2008.

C. Hennessy, ‘Top Ten Things You Should Know About The Beijing Olympic and Falun Gong’, Farectification Wordpress, 28 July 2008.