MADRID — Spain's top criminal court agreed Tuesday to hear a lawsuit from Tibetan rights groups that accuses Chinese leaders of genocide in connection with the unrest that erupted in the region in March.
The suit was filed on July 9 against seven Chinese leaders, including Defence Minister Liang Guanglie, by the Tibet Support Committee and two other Tibetan groups.
It was admitted under the principle of "universal competence" adopted by the Spanish judiciary in 2005 and under which Spanish courts can hear cases of genocide and crimes against humanity wherever they occur and whatever the nationality of the defendant.
Spain's National Court, which handles crimes against humanity and genocide, said it "accepts the competence of Spanish jurisdiction to investigate the reported events."
The court's decision comes just three days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, which has seen China facing unprecedented international scrutiny.
The director of the Tibet Support Committee, Alan Cantos, said he was overjoyed at the news.
"We are stunned with joy for the victims and the Tibetan people, for justice in general and the repercussions it may have in this passive world of political fickleness, economic greed and general passivity in front of powerful giants," he told AFP.
The lawsuit "denounces the new wave of oppression that began in Tibet on 10th March 2008, and just goes to prove that acts of genocide continue to be committed against the Tibetan people," the Tibet Support Committee said in a statement issued when it filed the complaint last month.
It also "denounces China's manipulation of the global war against terrorism in its attempt to justify and cover up crimes against humanity committed against the Tibetan people."
Other Chinese officials named in the suit were Minister for State Security Geng Huichang, Communist Party Secretary in Tibet Zhang Qingli, Politburo member Wang Lequan, Ethnic Affairs Commission head Li Dezhu, People's Liberation Army Commander in Lhasa General Tong Guishan and Zhang Guihua, political commissar in the Chengdu military command.
The groups filing the suit were ordered to appear before the court on September 4 and 10.
Unrest in Tibet erupted on March 14 after four days of peaceful protests against Chinese rule.
The Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and about 1,000 hurt in China's crackdown. Beijing insists that only one Tibetan was killed and has in turn accused the "rioters" of killing 21 people.
The crackdown sparked international protests that dogged the month-long global journey of the Olympic torch in April.
The suit accepted by the Spanish court Tuesday was an extension to another complaint filed by the Tibet Support Committee in 2006.
That suit accuses Chinese leaders, including former president Jiang Zemin and former prime minister Li Peng, of torture and crimes against humanity as well as genocide allegedly carried out in Tibet during the 1980s.
The National Court has been hearing that case since June 2006.
China's opponents accuse Beijing of systematic political, cultural and religious oppression in the remote and devoutly Buddhist Himalayan region.
China has condemned the accusations of genocide in Tibet as slander and it has accused Madrid of trying to interfere in its administration of the Himalayan region.
China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to "liberate" the region.
An exile group, the New York-based Students for a Free Tibet, said last week that pro-Tibet campaigners will be in Beijing and will attempt to stage peaceful protests during the Olympics, despite stringent restrictions at the event.
The president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, Alejandro Blanco, has warned Spain's athletes they risk being expelled from the Beijing Games if they make "political statements".