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JIN v. MINISTRY OF STATE SECURITY

March 24, 2003

YOUMING JIN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MINISTRY OF STATE SECURITY ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING DEFENDANT CTC'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE PLAINTIFFS' DEFAMATION CLAIM
I. INTRODUCTION

This multi-count civil rights and RICO*fn1 action comes before the court on defendant China Television Corporation's ("CTC") motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs, 51 Falun Gong practitioners who are visiting Chinese nationals, U.S. residents, or U.S. citizens, allege violations of their rights under the Constitution and federal and state law by persons and entities associated with the People's Republic of China ("PRC"). The defendants are the PRC Ministry of State Security, the PRC Ministry of Public Security, PRC national broadcasting entity China Central Television ("CCTV"), various PRC embassy and consulate officials, several unidentified persons employed by the PRC, the head of a Chinese-American association, and California corporation CTC (collectively, "the defendants"). CTC now moves to dismiss the defamation claim against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). Because the court concludes that the plaintiffs' defamation claim is time-barred, the court grants CTC's motion to dismiss.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiffs all practice Falun Gong, a self-improvement practice or discipline similar to Tai Chi that is rooted in ancient Chinese culture. Am. Compl. ¶ 36. According to the plaintiffs, Falun Gong has become a very popular form of exercise and meditation in China since the government loosened controls after the Cultural Revolution. Id. ¶ 37. The plaintiffs report that since its introduction into China in 1992, the number of Falun Gong practitioners has grown rapidly, reaching more than 70 million in number by 1999. Id.

The plaintiffs alleged that at first, Falun Gong was well received in China for its health benefits, receiving numerous awards and counting among its practitioners many government officials and senior Communist members. Id. ¶ 38. The plaintiffs claim, however, that the Chinese government began to perceive the spectacular growth of Falun Gong as a threat to state security, stability, and economic development. Id. ¶¶ 39-40. The plaintiffs assert that in 1996, after the government's early efforts to control the practice met with only limited success, the government began a campaign to marginalize and eventually eradicate Falun Gong by publishing a series of negative articles about the practice in state-run newspapers. Id. ¶ 41. Over the next few years, the government allegedly escalated its efforts by issuing a nationwide ban on Falun Gong literature, starting a media campaign to characterize Falun Gong as a cult whose members advocated criminal activity, and harassing, physically intimidating, detaining, and arresting practitioners without cause. Id. ¶¶ 41-43. In 1999, after a peaceful demonstration by Falun Gong practitioners for the release of their fellow practitioners, PRC president Jiang Zemin allegedly directed government officials to utilize the full resources of the state to eradicate the Falun Gong practice both in China and overseas. Id. ¶¶ 46-47. The government's efforts within China allegedly resulted in the murder of 1,500 Falun Gong practitioners, the arrest and detention of up to 50,000 practitioners, the torture of thousands of practitioners, the incarceration of practitioners in labor/re-education camps and mental institutions, and the expulsion of practitioners from educational institutions and employment. Id. ¶¶ 49-50.

In the United States, the Chinese government allegedly engaged in many of the same tactics of threats and coercion that it used in China. Id. ¶ 53. The plaintiffs assert that in a propaganda campaign aimed at overseas Chinese residents, the government sought to use mass media outlets to disparage Falun Gong leadership and vilify the Falun Gong practice. Id. Toward that end, contend the plaintiffs, the Chinese government used its embassy and consulate officials to orchestrate a nationwide conspiracy of disinformation against Falun Gong practitioners, distributing negative programming produced in China throughout major U.S. television markets and preventing Falun Gong practitioners from having equal access to those outlets.*fn2 Id. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that on January 30, 2001, the government staged a limited-access news event ("the staged news event") at which several individuals identified as Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. Id. ¶¶ 55, 221-23. In February 2001, CTC promoted and distributed the television footage of the staged news event throughout the United States. Id. ¶¶ 56-57. According to the plaintiffs, the CTC footage was accompanied by a narrative that defamed certain Falun Gong practitioners living in the United States as advocates of suicide, intra-family violence, anti-family values, and cult worship. Id. In October and November 2001, the footage was re-broadcast in the top five U.S. markets for Chinese Americans. Id. ¶¶ 59, 234. In December 2001, the footage was re-broadcast by CCTV as one of 2001's top stories. Id. ¶ 61. Moreover, the plaintiffs allege that ministry and embassy officials disseminated thousands of videotape copies of the footage to various federal and state officials, and incorporated the contents of the footage as well as further defamatory statements onto the Chinese embassy's website. Id. ¶¶ 62, 65, 235-36, 238. Finally, the plaintiffs assert that the officials issued threats to and took other actions against city officials who issued proclamations in support of Falun Gong practitioners. Id. ¶¶ 62-70.

Based on these and other actions, nine of the plaintiffs bring one count of defamation against CTC, CCTV, the defendant ministries, and the embassy and consulate officials. Id. ¶¶ 215-39. The plaintiffs allege that as a result of the defamation, they have had their reputations impugned, have been labeled cult leaders and terrorists, have been vilified and cursed by members of the Chinese-American community, and have been disowned by family members. Id. ¶¶ 225-26, 229, 231, 233. Accordingly, they seek injunctive and monetary relief. Id. ¶ 239.

B. Procedural History

On April 3, 2002, the plaintiffs filed their original complaint. On July 5, 2002, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint as a matter of right. On August 19, 2002, CTC filed a motion to dismiss the defamation claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (6). The court now turns to CTC's motion to dismiss.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Court Denies Defendant CTC's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
1. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction. Tremel v. Bierman & Geesing, L.L.C., 2003 WL 721911, at *2 (D.D.C. Feb. 27, 2003); Rasul v. Bush, 215 F. Supp.2d 55, 61 (D.D.C. 2002). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the court should accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Scandinavian ...


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