A Spanish judge has agreed to comply with orders to issue arrest warrants for Chinese former President Jiang Zemin and four other Chinese leaders. The new development has emerged just days before moves by the Spanish government to shut down the Tibet lawsuits are discussed in Parliament in Madrid (ICT report, A ‘death blow to democracy’: Spanish lawyers challenge new ruling that may close down Tibet lawsuits after Chinese pressure.)

Spanish lawyers working on the lawsuits against the Chinese leaders said that the new move by Judge Ismael Moreno was evidence that the case will now progress, even though the ruling is against the wishes of the Spanish government, under pressure from the Chinese leadership.

Judge Moreno ordered today for the arrest warrants to be immediately issued, following intense judicial discussions behind the scenes in the Madrid National Court (Audiencia Nacional) about how to proceed since appeal judges ruled that the warrants should be issued in November 2013 (ICT report, Spanish criminal court orders arrest warrants against Chinese leaders following Hu Jintao indictment for Tibet policies). A copy of the court order issued on February 6 stated: “The court hereby informs that, based on the contents of the previous report by the public prosecutor on that day, the proceedings are at your disposal in order to proceed with the appropriate court ruling to immediately issue international warrants of arrest” against the five Chinese leaders including Jiang Zemin. (Order issued by the Central Examining Magistrate’s Court No 2, Audiencia Nacional, Madrid).

It now remains to be seen whether the judge will act before proposed reforms that limit universal jurisdiction are approved and activated. (El Pais, El juez Moreno ordenará el arresto del expresidente chino Jiang Zemin – February 6, 2014).

The orders for arrest warrants are made against five senior Chinese leaders for their involvement in policies in Tibet as follows: Jiang Zemin, former President and Party Secretary; Li Peng, Prime Minister during the repression in Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and the crackdown in Tiananmen); Qiao Shi, former head of Chinese security and responsible for the People¹s Armed Police during the martial law period in Tibet in the late 1980s; Chen Kuiyuan, Party secretary in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 1992 to 2000 (who was known for his hardline position against Tibetan religion and culture), and Peng Peiyun, minister of family planning in the 1990s.

The ruling means that none of the leaders named, and others too, are likely to take the risk of travelling outside the PRC as they could be arrested for questioning on the crimes they are accused of.

In December, it was made public that the leadership in Madrid was intending to take steps to limit the Spanish judiciary’s powers to investigate human rights abuses under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The proposed reform of the Spanish law follows complaints about the law suits by the Beijing leadership; Chinese official Zhu Weiqun said the rulings were “malicious persecution” that were probably “plotted by the Dalai clique.” (China Tibet Online, Senior Chinese official responds to absurd Spanish arrest warrants over Tibet). It could lead to the Spanish government invoking reasons of “general interest” to prevent judges from investigating crimes of genocide committed abroad, although the principle of universal jurisdiction is the recognition that human rights abuses and crimes against humanity transcend national borders and nationality of victims.

The reforms are due to be discussed in Spanish Parliament next Tuesday (February 11). Senior Spanish lawyers have described the moves towards reform and the closure of the Chinese cases as a ‘death blow to democracy’.