Yahoo asks federal court to dismiss human rights lawsuit

It's accused of providing information about dissidents to the Chinese government

Yahoo Inc. has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by the Washington-based World Organization for Human Rights USA.

That lawsuit, filed in April, accuses Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary, Yahoo Hong Kong Ltd., (YHKL) of allegedly providing information to Chinese authorities that led to the persecution, torture and imprisonment of four Chinese dissidents.

According to that lawsuit, YHKL handed over information that led to the imprisonment of dissidents, including writer Wang Xiaoning, on charges of incitement to subvert state power. Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September 2003, due in part to writings distributed over the Internet. Yahoo gave his e-mail account information and IP address to the Chinese government, according to the court documents.

In addition, the lawsuit alleged that the Chinese court specifically relied on evidence supplied by Yahoo to identify and convict Xiaoning. The Chinese court said Yahoo was instrumental in causing Xiaoning's arrest and criminal prosecution, according to the lawsuit.

The World Organization represents Xiaoning, and his wife, Yu Ling.

In a 51-page defense filed yesterday, Yahoo asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to dismiss the lawsuit, saying U.S. courts don't have jurisdiction over YHKL. In addition, Yahoo said that while it sympathized with the plaintiffs and their families and doesn't condone the suppression of their rights and liberties by their government, it had no control over laws passed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the ways in which those laws were enforced.

"Neither Yahoo Inc. or YHKL therefore can be held liable for the independent acts of the PRC just because a former Yahoo subsidiary in China obeyed a lawful government request for the collection of evidence relevant to a pending investigation," Yahoo said in its lawsuit. When the lawsuit was filed, Yahoo was the sole owner of YHKL. Now, however, a Chinese company, Alibaba, holds a majority stake in YHKL.

"There were two aspects of [Yahoo's] defense that were particularly troublesome," said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization. "[One is] that they're invoking their free speech protection rights when the reality is that they've taken action here that totally denies the free speech rights of so many of their Internet users in China. It's a terrible irony. And they're trying to place the complete blame for everything's that happened on the government of China, as if they've played no role in the process.

"The reality is that they put the gun in the hands of the Chinese government that allowed these abuses to take place," Sklar said. "If they had not provided this Internet user identification information, there would be no abuses."

Yahoo officials could not be reached for comment.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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