NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters) - Members of a Chinese spiritual movement have sued Cisco Systems Inc for allegedly helping the Chinese Communist Party track them down for persecution.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in California federal court, claimed Cisco and its executives designed and implemented a surveillance system for the Chinese Communist Party, knowing it would be used to root out members of the Falun Gong religion and subject them to detention, forced labor and torture.
The suit asserted several claims, including torture, crimes against humanity, wrongful death and unfair business practices. The religious practitioners are seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as an injunction blocking Cisco from future unlawful activity.
Cisco responded on Friday that the allegations have "no basis" and that it would vigorously fight the suit. "Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression," the company said in a statement. Cisco sells the same equipment in China as it sells in other nations, and all equipment complies with U.S. government regulations, the company said.
The suit described the Falun Gong as a "peaceful religious practice" that originated in 1992. China's political leaders viewed the movement as a political threat, and by 1999 leading members of the Chinese Communist Party had devised a plan to purge the Falun Gong, according to the suit.
Cisco and its Chinese subsidiary "competed aggressively" to win the contract to design the surveillance system known as the "Golden Shield," and called "Policenet" in internal Cisco documents, the suit said. The plaintiffs claimed that Cisco had "full knowledge" that the purpose of the project was real-time monitoring of Falun Gong Internet activity so that practitioners could be located and "forcibly converted."
The suit said the Golden Shield has led to the arrest of as many as 5,000 Falun Gong practitioners. The sophisticated high-tech dragnet enabled public security officers to suppress the Falun Gong "because, unlike all other groups in China, their religious practice was tied to their Internet use," the complaint said. According to the complaint, Falun Gong practitioners almost always gather virtually at a central website.
The unnamed plaintiffs described being detained by Chinese authorities and tortured with physical beatings, electric shocks and sleep and food deprivation. They said no alternative remedy is available in China, where the alleged human rights abuses persist.
The case is Doe I et al v. Cisco Systems Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 11-2449.
For Doe I et al: Kathryn Lee Crawford-Boyd and Rajika Shah of Schwarcz, Rimberg, Boyd & Rader; Terri Marsh and Brian Pierce of Human Rights Law Foundation.
For Cisco: Not immediately available.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes)