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Falun Gong sues ex-president Jiang

Falun Gong, based on traditional Chinese religions and meditation exercises, is practiced in many countries.
Falun Gong, based on traditional Chinese religions and meditation exercises, is practiced in many countries.

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have filed a lawsuit against former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for human rights abuses.

Six members of the group -- which is banned in China -- filed the suit in Brussels on Wednesday under a revamped Belgian genocide law.

The plaintiffs allege Jiang committed crimes against humanity during Beijing's crackdown on the Falun Gong movement after outlawing it in 1999 and branding it as an "evil cult."

The Falun Gong says China has imprisoned thousands of members while hundreds have died or been tortured while in custody. Beijing denies the claim, instead saying it has been rehabilitating Falun Gong followers.

The lawsuit alleges Jiang put together a plan aimed at eliminating the movement, which gained millions of followers in the mid-1990s, during his time as president.

Though Jiang stepped down as president earlier this year, he is still in charge of China's massive armed forces.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs said he was confident Belgium's public prosecutor would not throw out the case.

"If you lodge a lawsuit and take on the responsibility and security of so many people, it's because my clients and I consider there is a large chance the suit will be admitted," Georges-Henri Beauthier told Reuters news agency.

The six plaintiffs are from various countries, including Belgium, the United States and Australia.

Belgium recently tightened its genocide law to allow only Belgians or long-term residents to bring legal action under strict conditions.

The changes followed a souring of relations between Brussels and Washington after suits against U.S. President George Bush and other high-ranking U.S. officials.

The plaintiffs expect to know by September whether the case against Jiang will be taken up, Beauthier said.

Beauthier brought the first successful case under the law, in which two Rwandan nuns were jailed for their part in the country's 1994 genocide.

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