The text of the verdict in the case of journalist Shi Tao – sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for “divulging state secrets abroad” – shows that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided China’s state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him, Reporters Without Borders said today.
“We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know it is a Chinese police informant as well,” the press freedom organisation said.
“Yahoo! obviously complied with requests from the Chinese authorities to furnish information regarding an IP address that linked Shi Tao to materials posted online, and the company will yet again simply state that they just conform to the laws of the countries in which they operate,” the organisation said. “But does the fact that this corporation operates under Chinese law free it from all ethical considerations? How far will it go to please Beijing?”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Information supplied by Yahoo! led to the conviction of a good journalist who has paid dearly for trying to get the news out. It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the Chinese government’s abuses and it is quite another thing to collaborate.”
Translated into English by the Dui Hua Foundation (which works to document the cases of Chinese political prisoners), the verdict reveals that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided the Chinese investigating organs with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account ([email protected]) and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer.
Yahoo ! Holdings (Hong Kong) is subject to Hong Kong legislation, which does not spell out the responsibilities in this kind of situation of companies that provide e-mail services. Nonetheless, it is reportedly customary for e-mail service and Internet access providers to transmit information to the police about their clients when shown a court order.
Tests carried out by Reporters Without Borders seem to indicate that the servers used for the Yahoo.com.cn e-mail service, from which the information about Shi was extracted, are located on the Chinese mainland.
Aged 37, Shi worked for the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News). He was convicted on 30 April of sending 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 e-mail but disputed that it was a secret document. He is still being held in a prison in Changsha to which he was sent after his arrest in the northeastern city of Taiyuan on 24 November 2004.
Yahoo! and Chinese censorship
For years Yahoo! has allowed the Chinese version of its search engine to be censored. In 2002, Yahoo! voluntarily signed the “Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry”, agreeing to abide by PRC censorship regulations. Searches deemed sensitive by the Chinese authorities such as “Taiwan independence” in Chinese into the Yahoo! China search engine, retrieve only a limited and approved set of results.
A US-based multinational, Yahoo! Appears to be willing to go to any lengths to gain shares of the Chinese market and it is investing heavily in local companies. In 2003, it spent 120 million dollars to buy the search engine 3721.com. More recently Yahoo! acquired a large stake in the Internet giant Alibaba in an operation that reportedly cost nearly a billion dollars. Reporters Without Borders has written several times to Yahoo! executives in an attempt to alert it to the ethical issues raised by its Chinese investments. These letters have so far received no answer.
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