In an article posted on the U.S.-based Chinese language news portal Boxun, long-time Chinese political activist Liu Xiaobo has claimed that Internet giant Yahoo cooperated with Chinese police in August 2003, leading to the identification and arrest of activist Li Zhi in 2003. Li, who tried to join the dissident Chinese Democracy Party, was charged with subverting state power and sentenced to 8 years in prison. According to Liu, who in turn cited a statement from Li’s lawyers, Chinese authorities sentenced Li on the basis of information turned over by Yahoo’s Hong Kong office.
Yahoo said in a statement it is investigating the matter. In a statement to Reuters, Yahoo spokesperson Mary Osako said, “As in most jurisdictions, governments are not required to inform service providers why they are seeking certain information and typically do not do so.” In the past, Yahoo has indicated it will cooperate with local authorities in jurisdictions where it conducts business when it is presented with a legal requirement to comply.
The case is the second in which Yahoo is accused of providing information which lead to the arrest and imprisonment of Chinese dissidents. In September 2004, Yahoo provided evidence which aided Chinese authorities in identifying Shi Tao, who was sentenced in April 2005 to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets abroad.
International watchdog Reporters Without Borders is calling on Yahoo to publish a list of all cyberdissidents whose information the company has turned over to Chinese authorities, including more than 80 Chinese the organization is currently campaigning to have released from prison. Reporters Without Borders says this the second case where Yahoo’s complicity with Chinese authorities lead directly to a dissident’s imprisonment: how many more cases might there be? “Yahoo certainly knew it was helping to arrest political dissidents and journalists, not just ordinary criminals.”
The charges highlight growing concerns over U.S. Internet businesses such as Yahoo, Google, and Cisco operating in China and other repressive regimes, and, in doing so, in many cases complying with local laws requiring discloser of customer information and censorship of Internet content. A congressional hearing on the topic is set for February 15, 2006.