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Congress probes Yahoo! for helping China imprison reporter

Press Esc | August 6, 2007
Vidura Panditaratne

US Congress on Friday launched an investigation into Internet giant Yahoo!'s role in a human rights case in China that sent a journalist to jail for a decade.

Chairman Tom Lantos of the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that committee staff will try to find out whether Yahoo! handed over information about cyber-dissident reporter Shi Tao to Chinese authorities.

“It is bad enough that a wealthy American company would willingly supply Chinese police the means to hunt a man down for shedding light on repression in China,” said Lantos, who also co-chairs the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. “Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense. For a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo! sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for. We expect to learn the truth, and to hold the company to account.”

In its case against Shi Tao, the prosecution charged that he improperly took notes on the memorandum as it was being discussed at an editorial meeting at the newspaper and then hours later sent an outline of its contents by email to be published in an overseas web forum under a pseudonym, Human Rights Watch reported.

Evidence presented during the trial included account verification information provided by Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd., which linked the IP address used to send the email from Shi Tao's personal Yahoo! email account to a computer located in the Contemporary Business News office, according to the rights group added.

Press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hailed the US congressional decision.

"Yahoo!'s confused statements must finally be clarified,” RSF stated said. “It is time the US corporation recognised its mistakes and accepted the consequences.”

At a February 2006 subcommittee hearing on limits to freedom on the Internet in China, Lantos questioned Yahoo! senior vice president and general counsel Michael Callahan about the case of Shi Tao, but the Yahoo! official claimed that his company had been told nothing about the content of the investigation into Shi Tao which the Chinese authorities began in 2004.

But recently the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation released documents showing that police had written Yahoo! specifying that they sought evidence about Shi in a case of suspected “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities,” a charge frequently invoked against political dissidents in China.

Shi's family in a lawsuit this year claimed that he is second person imprisoned on evidence Yahoo! provide to Chinese authorities. In 2003, Wang Xiaoning was convicted and sent to prison on the basis of information which Yahoo! provided to the Chinese police.

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