The president of Beijing's Olympic Organizing Committee was once found liable for torture in a U.S. federal court, a review of court records by the Center for Investigative Reporting has found. The 2004 judgment against Liu Qi — a member of the country’s powerful Politburo — received little media attention at the time. The U.S. Olympic Committee was unaware of the allegations, according to recent interviews.
In an extensive legal opinion, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco determined that Liu was responsible for the illegal detention and torture of two Chinese nationals and a sexual assault against a French woman in China. The two Chinese women later sought refuge in the United States.
“What difference does it make?” asked Anita L. DeFrantz, the senior U.S. member of the International Olympic Committee, when informed of the judgment against Liu. “I care very deeply about human rights,” DeFrantz said. “[But] this doesn’t tarnish the Games.”
Human rights advocates, on the other hand, said the 2004 court finding against Liu reflects badly on the Olympic movement in light of Liu’s involvement in the 2008 Summer Games.
“These Games are pretty damned tarnished,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, upon learning of the court’s judgment against Liu. Human Rights Watch has criticized the International Olympic Committee for choosing China—which has long been criticized for its human rights record—as host of the Summer Games. “The IOC is operating in a moral void,” she said.
Liu, 65, the man responsible for preparing Beijing for the 2008 Summer Games, is one of China’s most prominent political figures. After serving as mayor of Beijing, Liu was promoted in 2002 to Beijing Communist Party secretary and given a seat on the country’s 25-member Politburo, China’s top decision-making body. Last May, Liu made Time magazine’s “Time 100,” a list of "100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world."
Liu’s legal troubles in the U.S. began in 2002 when members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement sued him in San Francisco federal court under laws that allow foreigners to take legal action against their alleged torturers. Liu was served with legal papers at San Francisco International Airport while en route to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The Chinese government in 1999 outlawed the Falun Gong along with certain Christian groups. The U.S. State Department has since reported in its annual International Religious Freedom reports that Falun Gong members have been subjected to a range of harassment and torture by the Chinese government, including shock treatments, and that some have died from repeated physical abuse.
The lawsuit alleged that as mayor, Liu directed security forces to violently crush the Falun Gong. The plaintiffs claimed that Liu’s forces subjected them to severe beatings, sexual abuse and “electric shocks through needles placed in [the] body.” Those suing included two Chinese nationals, two Swedes, one French woman and a dual citizen of Israel and the U.S.
Liu never responded in court to the accusations, but the Bush administration entered the fray, urging the court to dismiss the case.
The lawsuit "is not the best way for the United States to advance the cause of human rights in China," the administration argued in court filings. "The United States Government has emphasized many times to the Chinese Government, publicly and privately, our strong opposition to violations of the basic human rights of Falun Gong practitioners in China.”
"We would respectfully urge the Court to fashion its final orders in a manner that would minimize the potential injury to the foreign relations of the United States," the State Department said.
Despite the administration’s arguments, the court determined that the plaintiffs were subjected to “torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and arbitrary detention,” according to the 2004 decision. Liu was held liable.
But the default judgment — Liu did not contest the charges in court — was a hollow victory, said David J. Bederman, an international law expert and professor at Emory Law School. “[The plaintiffs] got their day in court, but they didn’t really get anything else.” No damages were awarded.
DeFrantz, the senior U.S. member of the International Olympic Committee, said this week that Liu’s alleged involvement in human rights violations will not negatively impact the 2008 Summer Games.
“No one will remember who the organizers were,” DeFrantz said.