BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine judge has ordered the arrest of China's former President Jiang Zemin and another top official for "crimes against humanity" in the alleged persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
Falun Gong hailed it as a historic human rights ruling on Tuesday, although a lawyer for the group acknowledged it is largely symbolic.
Federal Judge Octavio de Lamadrid on December 17 asked Interpol to issue an arrest warrant against Jiang and former security chief Luo Gan after four years of investigating charges of torture and genocide against the Falun Gong group.
The judge ordered the arrest of the two "over crimes against humanity committed in China" including genocide and torture, according to a copy of the ruling. Jiang was president from 1993 to 2003.
De Lamadrid made the ruling based on sections of Argentina's 1994 constitution that allow Argentine courts to address human rights issues in other countries.
In his ruling, the judge said "if universal jurisdiction is not admitted we would find ourselves allowing impunity, which is what the international community wants to avoid."
Alejandro Cowes, an Argentine lawyer representing Falun Gong, said: "It's a historic ruling because for the first time we're opening a universal jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed abroad."
However, a second lawyer for the group acknowledged that the ruling was mostly symbolic since it is unlikely that the arrests would be carried out. Falun Gong has pushed for such rulings without results in France, Spain and elsewhere.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is scheduled to travel to China in January to discuss bilateral trade and business. Fernandez has pushed for human rights trials in Argentina against former military officers accused of abuses during the 1976-1983 "dirty war" against leftists.
A decade-long government crackdown drove Falun Gong underground in China but it has flourished abroad, where it has moved from a spiritual movement into a vehicle against Chinese Communist Party rule.
Thousands have been jailed since China declared Falun Gong a cult in 1999.
The Falun Dafa Information Center, which documents suspected abuses against practitioners in China, says 104 Falun Gong adherents died of abuse or neglect in custody last year, bringing to 3,242 the number of deaths documented over 10 years.
"I think this lawsuit is such great news because if (people in China) see that somebody is saying that this is wrong, even here in Argentina, they will be able to think that maybe what the government is telling them is not right," said Liwie Fu, president of the Falun Gong Group in Argentina, who brought the lawsuit.