Pasadena -- Falun Gong members and a Chinese political dissident said Wednesday they plan to sue Police Chief Bernard Melekian, Mayor Bill Bogaard and City Hall, claiming violation of their civil rights.
Denied a permit to hold a sizable march before Tuesday's Rose Parade, activists critical of China and a Beijing Olympics float said they'll file suit later this month and prove in court the denial was a politically motivated move to suppress their First Amendment rights.
"We came to protest Beijing's severe abuses and extreme human-rights violations, and now we have to defend our own rights first from our own government," said Shizhong Chen, a Falun Gong practitioner and president of the San Diego-based Conscience Foundation.
"Therefore, to defend our own founding principals, we are bringing the city to the court, and if necessary, the Supreme Court," he added.
Melekian took word of the legal threat in stride.
"That's what makes America great, is anyone can sue anyone for anything," he said.
But he also said there was no merit to the duo's complaints because "nobody was prohibited from doing anything because of their message."
He said city officials and parade organizers spent hours negotiating with John Li of Caltech's Falun Gong club and tried to accommodate plans for a "Human Rights Torch Relay" proposed by organizers.
It was the human-rights activists who rejected a final offer to hold a scaled-back event, Melekian said, in which police would have provided an escort for a torchbearer to run down Colorado Boulevard, ending on the east side of City Hall.
Chen's organization and Caltech's Falun Gong club, will be plaintiffs in the suit, along with three people who planned to participate in the torch relay, and Baldwin Park resident Yaning Liu.
Jailed for 18 years in China, prominent political dissident Wei Jingsheng was one of two planned torchbearers.
Liu, meanwhile, had petitioned city officials to help secure the release of her mother held in a Beijing labor camp.
The group's complaints stem from negotiations with the city to win approval for a pre-parade procession and march for human rights.
The two sides dispute the character of those last-minute discussions.
The initial, rejected plan was hashed out during talks with the Tournament of Roses organizers, Li said, because City Hall said any proposal would need the parade's group's approval.
The city whittled that initial plan down to nothing by cutting almost every element, Li said, including a marching band and a platform for celebrity VIPs.
Tournament officials declined to discuss the issue publicly while talks were under way.
After the back-and-forth negotiations ended with no deal, Tournament officials distanced themselves from the effort and now dispute they ever endorsed any part of it.
"If he is saying the Tournament of Roses agreed to a plan, that was not correct," said Bill Flinn, chief operating officer. "The Tournament of Roses and the city of Pasadena have tried to do their best. Those negotiations did not bear fruit."
Melekian said security concerns precluded the event from being approved.
Chen and other activists accuse Melekian, who takes over as acting city manager next week, of mixing politics with policing.
"They told us it was security concerns, but this is a political concern," Chen said. "It was they who turned \ into political propaganda by inviting the Beijing float, and now they blame it on us, saying we're trying to turn it into a political event?"
Melekian dismissed the accusation and said neither he nor his officers did anything to suppress speech.
"Nobody was prohibited from doing anything because of their message. But it's not inappropriate for the police to establish a security zone for the parade, and if you want to get your message out, these are the rules," he said.
Neither the Tournament nor its officers would be named in the suit, Chen said.
Bogaard was out of the country Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.