China denounces Spanish court's Tibet case against ex-president

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denounced on Monday a decision by a Spanish criminal court to indict former Chinese president Hu Jintao for genocide as part of an investigation into whether his government committed abuses in Tibet.

China's President Hu Jintao makes a press statement in the historic Hofburg palace in Vienna October 31, 2011. Hu arrived for an official three day visit to Austria. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

The Spanish National Court last week accepted a Tibetan advocacy group’s appeal in a case asserting that Hu had supported genocidal policies when he was Communist Party secretary in the Himalayan region from 1988-1992 and after he took over as China’s head of state in 2003.

The ruling could lead to moves to seek Hu’s arrest in Spain or other countries with which it shares an extradition treaty, though in practice he is unlikely to ever face a Spanish court.

“We firmly oppose any country or person attempting to use this issue to interfere with China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing.

Communist Chinese troops took control of Tibet in 1950.

China says it “peacefully liberated” the remote mountainous region that it says was mired in poverty, exploitation and economic stagnation.

Tibet’s Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule. Exiled Tibetan groups are campaigning for the return of the Dalai Lama and self-rule for their region.

Hua said the group that launched the legal case was trying to damage the “extremely friendly” relations between China and Spain.

“The Tibetan group’s purpose is extremely obvious and its political motives are sinister - to destroy the relations between China and the relevant country and to attack China’s government,” Hua said.

Hu was succeeded as president in March by Xi Jinping.

China’s human rights policy comes up for scrutiny at the Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations in Geneva on October 22, when groups and governments will be given the chance to press China on issues ranging from the death penalty to the treatment of dissidents.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet called the ruling “ground-breaking”. It says China’s policies in Tibet have led to “a climate of terror”, in which people face torture and pressure to denounce the Dalai Lama.

More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest against Chinese rule since 2009, mainly in heavily ethnic Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces rather than in what China terms the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Most of those who set themselves on fire have died.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel