MADRID/BEIJING (Reuters) - A Spanish judge on Monday sought the arrest of China's former president and premier over accusations of genocide in Tibet in an eight-year-old case that prompted a sharp rebuke from Beijing.
High Court Judge Ismael Moreno asked Interpol to issue orders for the detention of former President Jiang Zemin, ex-premier Li Peng and three other officials for questioning on charges brought by Tibetan rights groups in Spain.
However, the case may not progress as Spain's ruling People's Party is pushing through rules to limit judges' ability to pursue cases under universal jurisdiction, the principle that crimes against humanity can be prosecuted across borders.
This is the same concept used by former judge Baltasar Garzon to bring about the arrest of Chile's ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. Pinochet was eventually allowed to return to Chile for health reasons.
"Jiang exercised supervisory authority over the people who directly committed abuses, which makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet," Moreno wrote in the order, citing lawyers for the Tibetan plaintiffs.
Moreno asked Interpol to issue the arrest order seeking Jiang's detention for genocide, torture and crimes against humanity. He issued similar orders for Li and other Chinese officials in the 1980s and 1990s.
"(China) is extremely dissatisfied with and resolutely opposed to the wrong actions of the relevant Spanish organ taken while ignoring China's solemn position," China's Foreign Ministry said it would tell Spain.
"Whether or not this issue can be appropriately dealt with is related to the healthy development of ties," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing. "We hope the Spanish government can distinguish right from wrong."
Plots by overseas Tibetans to besmirch China's name using cases like this would never succeed, she added.
Interpol, the international police organization, issues Red Notices for wanted people, based on judicial orders from courts in its 190 member countries. Police in member countries can detain wanted persons on their soil based on the alerts.
China's Foreign Ministry called on Spain on Friday to prevent further lawsuits that seek to investigate alleged rights abuses in Tibet.
TRADE WITH CHINA
Trade and investment between Spain and China grew at the beginning of the past decade but have stagnated in Spain's long economic and financial crisis. Spain had a 12 billion euros trade deficit with China last year, down from 14 billion euros a year earlier.
Inditex, which owns the Zara clothing brand, has textile plants in China and has been opening more stores, but banks and telecommunications firms have scaled back investments there.
Communist Chinese troops took control of Tibet in 1950. China says it "peacefully liberated" the Himalayan region, which it says was mired in poverty, exploitation and economic stagnation.
Two Tibetan support groups and Thubten Wangchen, a Tibetan Buddhist monk with Spanish citizenship, brought a case in Spain in 2006 against the former Chinese leaders.
Tibet is the latest high-profile cause to be taken up in Spain's courts. Over the years a number of Spanish judges have tried to charge, arrest or question international figures over human rights accusations.
In one case that caused friction with the United States, a Spanish judge sought to question U.S. military officers over the death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso who died when a U.S. tank fired on a hotel housing journalists in the Iraq war in 2003.
Years after the Pinochet case, Garzon tried to use the principle of universal jurisdiction to dig into human rights crimes during Spain's Francisco Franco 1936-1975 dictatorship, saying amnesty laws passed in the 1970s violated rights laws.
Garzon was put under investigation for allegedly overstepping his role in the Franco case. He was suspended from the bench in 2010 in a separate case after he was found guilty of wire-tapping telephone conversations between jailed corruption suspects and their lawyers.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in MADRID and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Day and Janet Lawrence)