Chinese dissident slams Internet companies on policies

Google and Microsoft mentioned; Yahoo taken to task

A respected Chinese dissident has warned that the capitulation of Western Internet companies to China's authorities is a more serious threat to free speech in the country than the Chinese government's filtering of what its citizens can access on the Internet.

Speaking in Tokyo Monday, Wei Jingsheng, singled out Yahoo Inc. for its part in revealing information that helped land a journalist in jail last year.

"Let me specify Yahoo," he said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. "They will track down Internet users and help to sentence them. This really threatens the safety of Internet writers in China."

Yahoo has been the target of criticism since just over a year ago, when it admitted providing authorities with evidence that helped land a local journalist a 10-year jail sentence.

The journalist, Shi Tao, was an editorial department head at the Contemporary Business News in China's Hunan Province. He was arrested in 2004 after sending an e-mail to a New York-based Web site advocating democracy in China.

The e-mail contained information regarding a Chinese government warning for its officials, urging them to be vigilant ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and to watch out for dissident activity. It was posted on the site under the alias 198964, the date Beijing crushed the student-led democracy movement, June 4, 1989.

With the information provided by Yahoo, Shi was arrested and convicted of divulging state secrets by a provincial court in April 2005, according to information from several sources, including Reporters Without Borders.

In its defense, Yahoo said at the time that it was just following local laws in handing over the information.

Wei, who spent more than a decade in prison in China for penning an essay in 1978 against the communist system, said that Yahoo's lobbying in Washington has helped prevent the company from being brought to account for its actions.

"What's regrettable is that some in the U.S. Congress and government are speaking out for the Chinese government, so the Yahoo problem -- the judicial problem -- hasn't been resolved," he said. "As a big company, Yahoo has a lot of money for lobbying. I think this is a real problem. Everyone says that America's democratic system has been influenced by money and that's the problem."

Yahoo is not the only company that has come in for criticism for its actions in China. Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. were named alongside Yahoo in an Amnesty International report published in July this year as companies that have "in one way or another, facilitated or colluded in the practice of censorship in China."

Microsoft was criticized for shutting down a blog on its MSN Spaces Web site following a Chinese government request and Google for offering a censored version of its search engine for China.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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