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China 30 August 2007

Calling for lawsuit’s dismissal, Yahoo! says it is “political and diplomatic issue”

Reporters Without Borders insisted today that Yahoo! was responsible for the conviction of Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao and possibly other Chinese cyber-dissidents as well after the US Internet company called on 27 August for the dismissal of the lawsuit brought against it in the United States by relatives of these two imprisoned cyber-dissidents.

“Wang and Shi were both convicted thanks to information supplied by Yahoo! to the Chinese authorities,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is shocking that the company is denying its responsibility in this case and is trying to evade punishment for actions that led to arbitrary convictions.Yahoo! is even cynical enough to try to shift responsibility to the cyber-dissidents themselves.”

The lawsuit brought on behalf of Wang and Shi before a US court accuses of Yahoo! of providing the Chinese authorities with information from their email accounts that led to their arrest and conviction.

In its 27 August statement calling for the suit’s dismissal, Yahoo! said: “Free speech rights as we understand them in the United States are not the law in China. Every sovereign nation has a right to regulate speech within its borders.” Yahoo! spokesperson Kelley Benander told the Los Angeles Times, “this is a political and diplomatic issue, not a legal one.”

Yahoo said it "does not condone the suppression of their rights and liberty by their government", but it added that they were responsible for their own actions. "They assumed the risk of harm when they chose to use Yahoo! China email and group list services to engage in activity they knew violated Chinese law," it said.

Morton H. Sklar, executive director of the Washington-based World Organisation for Human Rights, said that, although it is clear that American corporations are obliged to follow foreign laws, they also must abide by US and international law.

"Congress recognized this problem when they passed the Torture Victim Protection Act," Sklar said. "They said explicitly, victims of torture should have access to US courts to remedy the abuses they suffered. Where torture has taken place, there is no question the US has jurisdiction."

Yahoo! issued a statement in June in which it said : "Yahoo! is dismayed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views on the Internet." It reiterated its position that it was obliged to comply with China’s laws, but it added that it condemned "punishment of any activity internationally recognised as free expression."

Over 16 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. Currently, Shi Tao is sponsored by Miljörapporten (Sweden), Télé Bruxelles (Belgium)

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