Yahoo accused of giving false information on Chinese journalist

Company execs called to hearing Nov. 6 to explain testimony in human rights case

Members of Congress have accused Yahoo Inc. executives of giving false information about the company's role in a human rights case in China that resulted in the 10-year imprisonment of a Chinese journalist.

To find out what Yahoo executives knew, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has asked top Yahoo officials to testify at a Nov. 6 hearing.

Committee chairman Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) asked Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and Michael Callahan, the company's senior vice president and general counsel, to appear at the hearing to talk about the information that Yahoo gave to Chinese authorities about Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist. The committee also wants to know what steps Yahoo has taken to protect the rights of its Chinese users.

"Our committee has established that Yahoo provided false information to Congress in early 2006," Lantos said in a statement. "We want to clarify how that happened and to hold the company to account for its actions both before and after its testimony proved untrue."

Yahoo could not be reached for comment.

Lantos said a Yahoo official testified before a subcommittee last year that the company knew nothing about the Chinese government's investigation into the activities of Shi, a pro-democracy activist. However, Lantos said the committee has since learned there was much more to the story than Yahoo let on.

"[A] Chinese government document that Yahoo had in their possession at the time of the hearing left little doubt of the government's intentions," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a committee member. "U.S. companies must hold the line and not work hand in glove with the secret police."

At a February 2006 subcommittee hearing about the limits of freedom on the Internet in China, Lantos and Smith said they questioned Callahan about Shi's case.

Shi, a reporter and editor at a Chinese newspaper, was arrested in his home after posting material about a government crackdown on media and democracy activists on Democracy Forum, an overseas Web site. He posted the information using a pseudonym.

Chinese authorities asked Yahoo to hand over information about Shi's e-mail account, including his IP address, log-on history and the contents of his e-mail over several weeks, which the company did. Using that information, Beijing police were able to track him down and arrest him at his home.

Yahoo told the committee at the 2006 hearing that when the Chinese government asked for the information about Shi, "we had no information about the nature of the investigation," the statement said.

However, the committee said near the end of July, the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation released documents showing that police had written to Yahoo telling the company that they were looking for evidence about Shi because they suspected he was "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities."

Shi has appealed his sentence to the Hunan Higher People's Court, claiming that he didn't know the information he posted was classified and that police used improper procedures in the investigation and arrest. Shi was arrested in 2004 and convicted and sentenced in 2005.

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

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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