Falun Gong Practitioners Sue Cisco

May 21, 2011
By Don Clark, The Wall Street Journal
A group of Chinese Falun Gong practitioners is accusing Cisco Systems Inc. in a lawsuit of aiding and abetting torture and other human-rights violations by the Chinese government against members of the religious movement.

The suit, filed by the Human Rights Law Foundation and the law firm Schwarcz, Rimberg, Boyd & Rader, alleges that Cisco was closely involved in the design and maintenance of a surveillance system in China called “Golden Shield” that was used to track and target Falun Gong followers and dissident groups. The suit also names John Chambers, Cisco’s chief executive, and two other Cisco executives.

A Cisco spokesman said “there is no basis for these allegations against Cisco, and we intend to vigorously defend against them.”

Cisco, based in San Jose, Calif., is the biggest maker of computer networking equipment. The company’s activities in China became a key focus of a Senate hearing on human rights three years ago, in part because of a slide in a 2002 internal company presentation. In it, an employee quoted a Chinese government goal for the Golden Shield Project of combating the “evil religion” of Falun Gong “and other hostiles.”

Company officials at the time said it was “appalled” by the slide, and said it didn’t represent company policy. Cisco, known for routing and switching systems that are used throughout the Internet, argued that technology to filter Web content is a standard feature of such products and that it didn’t adapt the equipment for the Chinese government.

The 52-page suit, filed in U.S. federal court in San Jose, disputes Cisco’s assertions. It alleges that Cisco engaged in extensive design work, customized its products and services, and provides continuing technical assistance and customer service for the Golden Shield system. As a result of the system, Falun Gong members who used the Internet were apprehended, tortured and subjected to other human rights violations, the suit alleges.

“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 Cisco spokesman responded Friday. “Cisco builds equipment to global standards which facilitate free exchange of information, and we sell the same equipment in China that we sell in other nations world-wide in strict compliance with US government regulations.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, relies largely on the Alien Torts Statute, a federal law allowing foreign nationals to file suit in federal court for violations of international law, as well as other federal and California state statutes. It seek unspecified damages and an injunction against Cisco.