November 14, 2007 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Yahoo! settles lawsuit by families of jailed Chinese cyber-dissidents

“The 6 November congressional hearing lent a human face to the tragedy they have been living for years. But this settlement should not end the debate about the involvement that companies such as Yahoo! may have in revealing personal data to the authorities in countries such as China", Reporters without borders said.
Reporters Without Borders today hailed yesterday's announcement that the US Internet company Yahoo! has settled a Californian lawsuit brought by the families of journalist Shi Tao and pro-democracy activist and blogger Wang Xiaoning, who were convicted and imprisoned on information which Yahoo! gave the Chinese authorities. The announcement came just six days after Yahoo! chief executive officer Jerry Yang and the company's vice president and senior counsel, Michael Callahan, publicly apologised to the families during a US congressional hearing. “This is a real relief for the families,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The 6 November congressional hearing lent a human face to the tragedy they have been living for years. But this settlement should not end the debate about the involvement that companies such as Yahoo! may have in revealing personal data to the authorities in countries such as China." The press freedom organisation added: “We hail the efforts of the lawyers of the World Organisation for Human Rights USA (WOHR USA) and the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs,Tom Lantos, and the congressman Chris Smith. What they did was decisive in ensuring that justice was rendered to the families of Shi and Wang. We reiterate our call for the release of Shi and Wang and of Li Zhi.” At least four Chinese cyber-dissidents have been arrested since 2002 as a result of information which Yahoo! provided to the Chinese authorities. Both Shi and Wang are serving 10-year prison sentences because of the supposedly “subversive” content they posted or exchanged online. Shi was convicted in 2005. Wang was convicted in 2003. Yang announced that he is going to create a human rights fund dedicated to helping imprisoned cyber-dissidents and their families. “After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo! and for the future,” Yang said. “Yahoo! was founded on the idea that the free exchange of information can fundamentally change how people lead their lives, conduct their business and interact with their governments. " "Yahoo! should extend this aid to the families of Li Zhi and Jiang Lijun and to the families of other cyber-dissidents who have been the victims of Yahoo!'s cooperation with the Chinese authorities," Reporters Without Borders added. --------------------------- 07.11 - Disappointing testimony to US congressional hearing by Yahoo! executives Reporters Without Borders is disappointed by yesterday's testimony by Yahoo! chief executive officer Jerry Yang and the company's vice president and senior general counsel, Michael Callahan, to a US House of Representatives foreign affairs committee hearing on Callahan's earlier controversial statements to Congress about the company's involvement in the arrest of Chinese journalist Shi Tao in 2005. The hearing was attended by Gao Qinshen, Shi's mother, and Yu Ling, the wife of Wang Xiaoning, a cyber-dissident arrested in 2003 who, like Shi, was convicted on information provided by Yahoo!. "We take note of the aplogies that Yahoo!'s executives gave to the families of Shi and Wang, but we regret that they did not announce any concrete measures to avoid being involved in the arrest of Internet users and dissidents again," Reporters Without Borders said. "Yang and Callahan failed to seize the opportunity they were offered to demonstrate transparency, and they were not convincing about the reasons for their lie in February 2006," the press freedom organisation added. "A humanitarian gesture in favour of the families of the imprisoned cyber-dissidents is welcome, but Yahoo! has not succeeded in dispelling all the doubts about its determination to stop collaborating with the Chinese security services." Yesterday's hearing highlighted the need for the US congress to quickly adopt a proposed Global Online Freedom Act, which has just been approved by the House foreign affairs committee at the initiative of representative Christopher Smith. When Callahan testified to a congressional hearing in February 2006, he claimed that Yahoo! knew nothing about the nature of the Chinese government's investigation into Shi and was just complying with the law when it handed over information. But the Dui Hua Foundation subsequently demonstrated that Yahoo! China had been notified of the charges against Shi in April 2004. For the first time, Yahoo!'s executives met after yesterday's hearing with the relatives of Shi and Wang, telling them that they wanted to obtain the cyber-dissidents' release. Pressed by several representatives including foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Lantos, who voiced amazement that Yahoo! still had not contacted the cyber-dissidents' families, Yang promised during the hearing that the company would examine the possibility of providing them with humanitarian assistance. Several representatives urged Yahoo! to use its "market ability" to bring about "positive change" in online free expression in China. ------------------------------------------------------ 05.11 - Yahoo! to testify before congress : a chance for transparency and accountability on business pratices in China Reporters Without Borders asked Yahoo! today to take advantage of the November 6 Congress hearing to set the record straight on the company's collaboration with the Chinese authorities. Congress is investigating sworn statements Yahoo! made during a February 2006 Congress hearing regarding its role in cyberdissident Shi Tao's arrest and conviction on a charge of “illegally divulging state secrets abroad,” for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. “Yahoo!'s confused statements must finally be clarified,” the press freedom organization said. “The time for lamentations is over. The company has now to accept the consequences of its mistakes and to act accordingly. At least four cyberdissidents were thrown in jail because of data provided by Yahoo! to the Chinese police. We would be particularly interested in the disclosure of the number of information requests with which Yahoo! complied, whether they concern any of the 32 jailed journalists or of the 50 people currently behind bars for expressing themselves freely on the Internet, and how such requests are being processed within the company. This hearing is a chance for Yahoo! not only to show more transparency, but also to discuss the practical steps the company intends to take to prevent its future involvement in dissidents' arrests.” Announcing the investigation on August 3, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos said it would be shameful if it were confirmed that Yahoo! had known why the Chinese police requested the information that enabled them to arrest Shi. “Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense,” Lantos said, adding that, “for a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo! sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for. We expect to learn the truth, and to hold the company to account.” Yahoo! executive vice president and general counsel Michael Callahan told the US House Foreign Affairs Committee in February, 2006, "We had no information about the nature of the investigation." He was referring to the one targeting Shi Tao, which the Chinese authorities began in 2004. But in fact, China's Department of State Security sent Yahoo! a document dated April 22, 2004, explaining that the authorities wanted information about an Internet user suspected of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign institutions.” Michael Callahan apologised on November 1st for failing to tell US lawmakers that Yahoo knew more about the case than he initially acknowledged in testimony last year. “Months after I testified before two House subcommittees on Yahoo's approach to business in China, I realized Yahoo had additional information about a 2004 order issued by the Chinese government seeking information about a Yahoo China user,” Mr Callahan said in a statement. “I neglected to directly alert the committee of this new information and that oversight led to a misunderstanding that I deeply regret and have apologised to the committee for creating,” Mr Callahan said. According to the Financial Times, he is expected to testify that a lawyer for Yahoo in Asia failed to brief him on the order because the lawyer did not believe it was significant. Yahoo! Hong Kong's cooperation with the police is mentioned in the Chinese court's verdict against these four cyberdissidents: - Shi Tao (see above); - Wang Xiaoning, 55: sentenced to ten years in prison in September 2003 for posting “subversive” articles online; - Li Zhi, 35, sentenced on December 2003 to eight years in prison for “inciting subversion.” He had been arrested the previous August after criticizing, in online discussion groups and articles, the corruptive practices of local officials; - Pro-democracy activist Jiang Lijun, freed on November 5 after completing a four-year sentence. Convicted of “inciting the subversion of state authorities” following his arrest in 2002, police considered him to be the head of a small group of cyberdissidents, and had arrested him several times before for posting political articles online.