Falun Gong supporters fail in legal action against Chinese minister

London, England - A British court rejected an application by the Falun Gong religious movement to have Chinese trade minister Bo Xilai arrested for allegedly torturing its members.

Judge Timothy Workman said Bo -- who is part of Chinese President Hu Jintao's delegation currently visiting Britain -- could not be detained because he had diplomatic immunity.

The application related to Bo's time as governor of Liaoning province, northeast China, and his alleged promotion of the torture and ill-treatment of Falun Gong practitioners.

The Falun Gong Association in Britain alleges Bo was "actively involved" in persecuting, torturing and even killing their members.

Judge Workman told Bow Streets Magistrates Court, central London: "The real issue in this case is whether the proposed defendant is immune from prosecution.

"I am told that Mr Bo is the Minister for Commerce including International Trade for the People's Republic of China. As such, I have concluded that his functions are equivalent to those exercised by a Minister for Foreign Affairs."

Under international law, Bo had immunity from prosecution because otherwise he would not be able to perform his functions unless able to travel freely, Workman stated.

His immunity was further reinforced by his status as part of an official delegation for a state visit under Article 31 of the UN Convention on Special Missions 1969, he added.

Lawyer John Hardy, for the Falun Gong, raised the case of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, who was detained on a visit to London in 1998 and held under house arrest for more than a year.

But Workman said comparisons between Pinochet and Bo did not apply, because the former Chilean premier was no longer a head of state.

Dee Ling, of the Falun Gong Association in Britain, said they planned to lodge an appeal of the decision at a higher court as early as Wednesday.

She told AFP: "We know we are under pressure of time because Bo is leaving on Thursday but we will try our best."

It is the second time the association has applied for but failed to get an arrest warrant against the minister in Britain.

A file was passed to London's Metropolitan Police in May 2004 but the force did not proceed, again citing Bo's diplomatic immunity.

The Falun Gong movement -- also known as Falun Dafa -- is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline for the mind and body, according to its British website.

It claims 100 million followers throughout the world but has been outlawed in China since the time of the previous president Jiang Zemin, since when supporters claim the ruling Communist Party has illegally detained thousands of its members.Britain-China-justice