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US Congress to probe Yahoo over jailed Chinese journalist Shi Tao

A US congressional committee plans to investigate whether Yahoo Inc lied during testimony over its role in a human rights case in China that sent journalist Shi Tao to jail for 10 years.

Announcing the investigation, House of Representatives foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, Friday last it would be shameful if it was confirmed that Yahoo had known why the Chinese police requested the information that enabled them to arrest Shi.

Sign in front of Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. Shi Tao received a 10-year jail sentence, but has appealed the verdict to the Hunan Higher People's court, arguing that he was unaware that the information was classified. He is also suing Yahoo and its Hong Kong subsidiary in the US federal court for damages. Yahoo denied involvement of its Hong Kong subsidiary. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Justin Sullivan)

“Covering up such a despicable practice when congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense,” Lantos said, adding that, “for a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for.”

Lantos ordered the investigation after a human rights group released a document that it said raised questions about what Yahoo knew when it shared information with authorities about Shi. The Dui Hua Foundation has released a document that it says shows the Beijing State Security Bureau had written Yahoo saying it wanted email content about Shi for an investigation into suspected "illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities."

The document requesting information from Yahoo was translated by Dui Hua; it was posted anonymously last week on the website of the US-based Chinese-language Boxun.com, said Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager at Dui Hua, acording to the Associated Press (AP)

Yahoo executive Michael Callahan told a US congressional committee in February 2006 that his company had been told nothing about the content of the investigation into Shi Tao which the Chinese authorities began in 2004. However, China’s Department of State Security sent Yahoo a document dated April 22, 2004 explaining that the authorities wanted information about an Internet user suspected of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign institutions.”

Chinese authorities convicted Shi, formerly an editorial department head at the Contemporary Business News in China's Hunan Province, in part due to an April 2004 email Yahoo handed over to investigators, which contained a government warning for commissars to be on guard for dissident activity ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Shi received a 10-year jail sentence, but has appealed the verdict to the Hunan Higher People's court, arguing that he was unaware that the information was classified. He is also suing Yahoo and its Hong Kong subsidiary in the US federal court for damages. Yahoo denied involvement of its Hong Kong subsidiary, saying instead that its China unit was forced to hand over the emails in compliance with local laws.

On May 29, Shi’s family joined the lawsuit filed in California against Yahoo by the family of Wang Xiaoning, a dissident who has been in prison since 2003 and who, like Shi, was convicted on the basis of information which Yahoo! provided to the Chinese police. At the time, Yahoo defended its cooperation with the police by claiming that it had not been told anything about the nature of the investigation and was just complying with Chinese law.

Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) hailed the congressional decision. “Yahoo’s confused statements must finally be clarified,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is time the US corporation recognised its mistakes and accepted the consequences.”

Shi is not the only one suing Yahoo for handing personal information to Chinese authorities. The wife of an imprisoned Chinese dissidentfiled suitin the US District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland earlier this year, claiming that information provided by Yahoo led to the arrest and torture of her husband, Wang Xiaoning.

In addition, Amnesty International and RSF have both criticised Yahoo over the Shi Tao incident, and a group of US lawmakers blasted a group of Internet companies last year, including Yahoo, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems Inc, for failing to uphold free expression in China.

Date posted: August 6, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 15578