“Golden Shield” Oral Arguments Today: Doe v. Cisco

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Publication Date: 
April 1, 2017

A panel of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco (composed of Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Wallace Tashima, and Marsha Berzon) will hear oral arguments today in the Alien Tort Statute/Torture Victim Protection Act case of Doe et al. v. Cisco Systems, Inc., John Chambers & Fredy Cheung. (I have provided background on the case here.) I want to highlight some of the issues to be argued in the case by renowned human rights litigator Paul Hoffman, for the plaintiffs, and former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, now with the law firm of Quinn Emanuel, for the defendants. These include: the standard of complicity under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), extraterritoriality, and potentially the amenability of corporations to suit under the ATS.

Factual Background

As always, the case presents two competing narratives:  The plaintiffs are Falun Gong adherents who were persecuted by Chinese authorities for their religious beliefs.  They are arguing that Cisco Systems did not merely sell generic plug-and-play routers and switches in China, but rather customized a fully networked sub-system of the Golden Shield to enable the Chinese security services to better surveil, track, apprehend, and interrogate Falun Gong practitioners and ultimately to subject them to forced religious conversion through torture in prisons and “mental hospitals” run by the public security agencies. This mistreatment was facilitated by the knowledge of plaintiffs’ unique personal vulnerabilities gleaned from the surveillance and interrogation program. By contrast, the defendants—the corporation, its former CEO, and an executive who oversaw Cisco’s public-security related projects in China—claim that the technology they provided merely furthered China’s legitimate security purpose of identifying and thereby apprehending people who violate Chinese law. 

The bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom annually tracks Chinese persecution against Falun Gong, including the network of brainwashing centers known to use torture as well as allegations of organ harvesting. Its 2016 report can be found here. Freedom House’s report on repression of Falun Gong is here; Human Rights Watch’s account is here. Amnesty International regularly issues Urgent Actions on behalf of imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners. The Ninth Circuit has confirmed Falun Gong practitioners are eligible for political asylum (Judges Reinhardt and Berzon were on the panel).

Read the full post at Just Security