YAHOO ASSAILED OVER JAILING OF JOURNALIST
Shi Tao, a journalist for "Dangdai Shang Bao" ("Contemporary Business News"), was sentenced in April 2005 by a court in Changsha to 10 years in jail for "leaking state secrets abroad," report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). He had written an e-mail to the editor of a New York-based web site which divulged the contents of a Propaganda Department memo sent to his newspaper.
The Dui Hua Foundation, which lobbies for the release of political prisoners in China, translated the verdict into English, which showed that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided Chinese authorities with information that enabled them to link Shi?s personal e-mail account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and his e-mail message to the IP address of his computer (see: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/globalvoices/wp-content/ShiTao_verdict.pdf).
"Account holder information furnished by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd., which confirms that for IP address 184.108.40.206 at 11:32:17pm on April 20, 2004, the corresponding information was as follows: user telephone number, 0731-4376362 located at the Contemporary Business News office in Hunan; address: 2F, Building 88, Tianxiang New Village, Kaifu District, Changsha," the verdict said.
Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang has confirmed that his company assisted Chinese authorities in passing on information about Shi Tao but said it had no choice, reports the International Herald Tribune. Yang said his company was complying with local laws.
Writing in RConversation.blogs.com, former CNN journalist Rebecca MacKinnon says Yahoo! could have chosen to host its Chinese e-mail service outside China. Instead, it chose to host it inside the country, subjecting it to Chinese laws. "If Shi Tao's email account had been hosted on servers outside of China, Yahoo! wouldn't have been legally obligated to hand over his information," MacKinnon says.
For years, Yahoo! has allowed the Chinese version of its search engine to be censored, notes RSF. In 2002, the company voluntarily signed the "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry", agreeing to abide by Chinese censorship regulations. Yahoo! China's search engine restricts users from finding information on topics such as Taiwanese independence.
Yahoo recently signed a deal to buy 40 per cent of the Chinese website Alibab.com for $US 1 billion dollars. With more than 100 million Internet users, China has the world's second largest market after the United States.
Yahoo is not the only foreign company that has drawn controversy over its willingness to ignore human rights at the expense of doing business in China.
In June 2005, Microsoft banned users of its Chinese-language blog hosting service, MSN Spaces (http://spaces.msn.com/?mkt=zh-cn), from using politically sensitive words in their online weblogs, or blogs. According to tests run by RSF, when a blogger in China tries to post a message containing terms such as "democracy", "Dalai Lama", "Falun Gong", "4 June" (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), "China + corruption", or "human rights", they receive a warning that says, "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression."
- Dui Hua Foundation: http://www.duihua.org/
- International Herald Tribune: http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/09/11/business/yahoo.php
- RConversation: http://tinyurl.com/83hoz
- China's Internet: Let 1,000 Filters Bloom: http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=5928
- OpenNet Initiative Report on Internet Filtering in China: http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/china/
(Photo of Shi Tao)