China denounces Falungong's Belgium lawsuit

China condemned Thursday a lawsuit filed by the Falungong spiritual movement in Belgium against former president Jiang Zemin, saying it is an attempt to harm Sino-Belgian relations which will fail.

The Chinese embassy in Brussels said the suit, filed by six Falungong supporters alleging genocide and crimes against humanity by Jiang, was an attempt to blacken Beijing's international image.

"This type of sect is trying to take legal action on the basis of human rights, which is totally ironic," said the embassy. "Its real aim is to disrupt and sabotage the proper development of Sino-Belgian relations and to blacken China's image internationally.

"The attempts by Falungong are destined to fail," it added.

On Wednesday six Falungong followers, including a Belgian and one Chinese national who has lived in Belgium since 1996, filed the suit under a new Belgian law which has just replaced controversial legislation.

The 30-page suit accuses Jiang -- who remains China's military head -- of "torture, crimes against humanity and genocide." It also targets two other senior Chinese leaders, Luo Gan and Li Lanqing.

"Jiang's horrific form of genocide... is a terror that does not just destroy lives, but destroys faith. It is a terror that should not be allowed to exist in the modern world," said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier.

The suit was brought under new legislation adopted by Belgian lawmakers on August 5, to replace the controversial so-called "universal competence" law which led to cases against US and Israel leaders.

The old law, under which suits could be brought regardless of nationalities of those involved or where the alleged crimes took place, resulted in intense diplomatic pressure on Belgium, notably from Washington after President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were targetted by legal action.

The new law, which covers "serious violations of international humanitarian law", allows cases to be brought only if there is a link between the alleged crimes and Belgium.

Belgian authorities declined to comment on the lawsuit. A foreign ministry spokesman said that the matter was entirely a matter for the courts.

China banned the Falungong four years ago after some 10,000 followers of the group surrounded the Communist Party leadership compound in central Beijing to protest a government crack-down.

Falungong, whose followers practise meditation to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, says that over 1,600 members have been tortured or beaten to death in China, over 500 have been given prison sentences of over 20 years, over 1,000 interned in mental hospitals and more than 25,000 held in work camps. Some 100,000 others are being held without trial, it says.

The Chinese embassy said Thursday that Falungong was "an anti-human and anti-social sect," adding that acts by the movement "have threatened the interests of public order."

"It is precisely to better protect people's human rights that the Chinese government banned Falungong, and implemented a policy of persuasion and education directed at the majority of its members so that they can escape the mental grip of Falungong" it added.

Beauthier said he is confident the Belgian lawsuit will at least be accepted as valid by prosecutors. Asked if Jiang could one day face arrest, he cited the case of ex Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet, detained in Britain in 1998.