Cisco is being sued by a human rights group on behalf of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. The Human Rights Law Foundation, a US organisation, claims that the network company supplied and maintained software and hardware for the Chinese authorities, even though they knew it would be used to locate followers of the persecuted dissident group.
The class action dates from 1998 and accuses Cisco CEO John Chambers and senior staff of the company’s Chinese subsidiary of taking a major role in the development of the Golden Shield Project. This project has been dubbed the Great Firewall of China because of the way it ring-fences, monitors and controls Internet traffic across the nation’s public network. It was designed to block Websites deemed objectionable or subversive by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Falun Gong is a system of beliefs and practices based on Buddhist principles but also drawing on concepts enshrined in Taoism and Confucianism. The movement was founded in China by Li Hongzhi in 1992 and has been outlawed, and its followers persecuted by, the Chinese government.
The suit states that Cisco was aware Chinese Public Security officers would eavesdrop and intercept communications to identify Falun Gong members. Once arrested, the group’s members would be subject to “gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity.”
In a statement, the networking company dismissed the charges. “There is no basis for these allegations against Cisco, and we intend to vigorously defend against them. Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customise our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression.”
If the class action suit is successful, it could open the way to further companies being sued for assisting the claimed persecution of Chinese minorities or for trading with repressive regimes in other countries. At a particularly sensitive time for Cisco, it may also draw attention from “ethical investors” who look for suppliers that have no involvement with repressive governments or organisations.
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