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Yahoo sued for providing data on Chinese dissidents

Four were arrested after Yahoo turned over e-mail information

By Linda Rosencrance
April 19, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Washington-based World Organization for Human Rights USA has filed a lawsuit against Yahoo Inc. for allegedly providing information to Chinese authorities that led to the persecution, torture and imprisonment of four Chinese dissidents.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

"We represent a dissident in China, Wang Xiaoning, and his wife, Yu Ling," said Theresa Harris, international justice project director at the World Organization. "His wife came to the U.S. because of the effects of Yahoo's disclosure of her husband's information. Based on the information that Yahoo provided to the Chinese authorities, her husband was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison and she is seeking justice here. She is looking to hold the corporation accountable for what happened to her family. Her husband did nothing wrong. He wrote his opinions and that's what he's been put in prison for."

Harris said Ling wants Yahoo to change its policy and to use its influence to help get the dissidents, who have been imprisoned based on information Yahoo turned over to the government, out of prison. Harris said Ling is also seeking unspecified damages as well as a court order to stop Yahoo from doing the same thing in the future.

According to the lawsuit, Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary (Yahoo HK) provided information to Chinese authorities that led to the imprisonment of Xiaoning, a writer, on charges of incitement to subvert state power, a human rights group said.

Wang was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in September 2003, due in part to writings distributed over the Internet.

According to the lawsuit, the Chinese court specifically relied on evidence supplied by Yahoo to identify and convict Xiaoning. The judgment noted that Yahoo HK informed investigators that a mainland China-based e-mail account (bxoguh@yahoo.com.cn) was used to set up Xiaoning's "aaabbbccc" Yahoo Group, and that the e-mail address ahgq@yahoo.com.cn, which Xiaoning used to post e-mails to that Yahoo Group, was also a mainland China-based account maintained by Xiaoning. The Chinese court said Yahoo was instrumental in causing Xiaoning's arrest and criminal prosecution, according to the lawsuit.

Yahoo spokesman Jim Cullinan said Yahoo is distressed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views on the Internet.

"We call on the U.S. Department of State to continue making this issue of free expression a priority in bilateral and multilateral forums with the Chinese, as well as through other tools of trade and diplomacy, in order to help secure the freedom of these dissidents," he said.

Because Yahoo has not had time to review and analyze the lawsuit being filed today, Cullinan said it would be premature for the company to comment on the specifics of the case. "However, the concerns raised about the Chinese government compelling companies to follow Chinese law and disclose user information are not new," he said. "Companies doing business in China must comply with Chinese law or its local employees could be faced with civil and criminal penalties."

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