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United States14 January 2009

Yahoo!’s new CEO urged to make defending freedom of expression on the Internet one of the company’s priorities

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders congratulates Carol Bartz for her appointment yesterday as Yahoo!’s new CEO, replacing Jerry Yang. The organisation’s secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, seized the opportunity to write to Bartz to express its concerns about Yahoo!’s policies in China, mentioning the case of journalist Shi Tao of the Dangdai Shang Bao business daily.

"In 2005, Yahoo!’s reputation was tarnished by revelations of complicity with Chinese Internet censors in the Shi Tao case," the letter says. "Thanks to the data provided by Yahoo!- as presented in the court verdict- Shi Tao was sentenced to ten years in prison.(...)". In the letter, Reporters Without Borders asks Bartz to resist pressure from authoritarian governments: "We therefore request you to pursue a policy opposed to the disclosure of users’ personal data to the authorities of countries that abusively censor the Internet, and which have associated your company in the tracking of dissidents."

Aged 37, Shi Tao was convicted on 30 April 2005 of "illegally divulging state secrets abroad." Prosecutors said he sent foreign-based websites the text of an internal message which the authorities had sent to his newspaper warning journalists of the dangers of social destabilisation and risks resulting from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Chinese state security insisted during the trial that the message was "Jue Mi" (top secret). Shi admitted sending it out by email but disputed that it was a secret document. The information about his email account was provided to the Chinese authorities by Yahoo! Hong Kong in a report dated 1 August 2004. Shi is still in the Changsha prison to which he was sent after his arrest in the northeastern city of Taiyuan on 24 November 2004.

Similar Yahoo! collaboration with the Chinese authorities was established in three other cases, those of Li Zhi, Wang Xiaoning and Jiang Lijun.

Reporters Without Borders has taken note of Yahoo!’s effort to repair its image and recover the trust of its clients. Jerry Yang, the outgoing CEO, agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Shi Tao’s mother on behalf of her son, and to set up a human rights fund supervised by leading Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu to help Chinese dissidents who are imprisoned or harassed by the government.

Yahoo! has also signed off on the Global Internet Network principles of free expression and respect for privacy, established at the initiative of a group of companies, civil society organisations, investors and academics.

"These are, of course, laudable initiatives, but they do not really address the core of the problem. [...] It seems to us more judicious to prevent dissidents from going to jail in the first place rather than doing your best to obtain their release." Julliard says in his letter.

"We therefore urge you to renegotiate your local partnership with Alibaba, including a non-negotiable condition requiring it to resist abusive requests from the China authorities on the basis of a few principles: any request for users’ personal information should be systematically submitted in writing, and the final decision should be made by a Yahoo! representative, who would undertake not to cooperate in cases of a political nature."

The letter adds: "If necessary, you must seriously consider the alternative of hosting your servers outside of the country in order not to be subject to local Chinese laws." Reporters Without Borders also mentioned its support for the Global Online Freedom Act proposed by New Jersey Republican representative Christopher Smith, which would enable American Internet companies to say US law prevents them from cooperating with requests of a political nature from regimes seeking to censor the Internet.

A total of 70 cyber-dissidents are currently in prison because of their online activities.

Read the letter:

PDF - 139.5 kb


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