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China 16 July 2002

Open letter to the Yahoo! chairman

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Mr Terry Semel Chairman & CEO

Yahoo! Inc. 701 First Avenue Sunnyvale, California 94089 United States

Paris, 16 July 2002

Reporters Without Borders wishes to express its consternation following the announcement that the Chinese language version of the Yahoo! web site is among the 300 web sites and Internet Access Providers that have signed the self-censorship pact drawn up by the Chinese government.

The "self-discipline Pact" submitted to the operators on 16 March 2002 by the Chinese Internet Association, and signed by your local representative, is nothing more than a further escalation of the authorities’ attempt to control the circulation of information on the Net, and to put a gag on any form of criticism or any exercising of the right to freedom of expression.

In signing this "Pact", Yahoo! has agreed "not to produce or disseminate harmful documents or any information that could jeopardise national security or social stability; to infringe laws and regulations; to spread false information, superstition or obscenity". The text also stipulates "the web sites’ cooperation in the fight against Internet crime and the failure to comply with copyright laws".

Reporters Without Borders asks you to seriously consider revoking this decision and withdrawing your signature, and urges you to reject this practice of self-censorship of the content of your web site.

By giving up your right to the freedom of expression, by hampering the circulation of information on the Net, by depriving your clients of a rich and varied content, you are demolishing the very foundations of the Internet and of democracy. And you are going against the very history of your own enterprise.

By its very nature and since its inception, the Internet has been a vector for the transmission of information and of knowledge, of free exchanges between citizens, peoples and cultures; an area of freedom of expression; a weapon against censorship. And Yahoo! has always defended its image as an "historic" operator in the development of the Web; a pioneer fiercely protective of its independence and that of the web sites hosted on its portals - including controversial web sites.

Reporters Without Borders has, in the not so distant past, defended you - when the controversy over the auction of nazi memorabilia on one of your sites was in full swing in France. Our organisation did that in the name of the total freedom from which the Internet should benefit.

Reporters Without Borders also fights for the right of Chinese Internet users and operators to enjoy that same freedom. And it has to be recognised that this is not the situation today.

The Chinese government has been trying to control the Net since 1997. After having attempted, in vain, to confine the Internet community within its national borders, it then adopted a policy of censorship and self-censorship; of controlling, filtering and spying on web sites and Internet users; a widespread policy of arrests and convictions of cyber-dissidents.

Today, 22 of these are behind bars, simply for having downloaded documents about democracy or for having criticised the authorities or the Communist Party. Dozens of international media or human rights organisations’ web sites cannot be accessed from China. For a number of months now, the Internet police and local authorities have been trying to eradicate Internet cafés. Several thousand of these have been forced to shut down. They will only be allowed to reopen if they submit to the government’s demands, notably that of installing spyware products on their computers.

Is this really the kind of cyberspace in which Yahoo wants to develop its activities? Is it to enslaved Internet users, whose every move and gesture is controlled, that Yahoo! intends to offer its services? We sincerely hope not.

We strongly urge you, therefore, to denounce the signing of this "Pact" and to work, on the contrary, towards the democratic opening-up of the Internet in China. If you fail to do this, the Internet community will have to record that Yahoo! is no longer a "free" operator, attached to freedom of expression on the Internet.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Ménard

General Secretary

-  For more informations about the censorship of Internet in China, read "The chronicles of the repression" by Reporters without borders

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