Group: Yahoo help leads to another dissident arrest

Information from Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary led to the arrest of a Chinese dissident, Reporters Without Borders says.

A media rights group has identified a third dissident who the Chinese government arrested based on information apparently supplied by a Yahoo subsidiary.

Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday said it has obtained a copy of the verdict in a four-year prison sentence for cyber-dissident Jiang Lijun, sentenced in November 2003 for his online prodemocracy articles. The verdict document says Jiang's e-mail account, provided to Chinese authorities by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong), was part of the evidence used to try him for the crime of subversion.

Jiang used the Internet and other methods to promote a "so-called Western-style democracy" and advocate the overthrow of the Chinese government, the verdict said. The Chinese government also accused Jiang of planning to make bomb threats and attempting to start a new political party, according to the verdict. He denied the charges against him.

"Little by little we are piecing together the evidence for what we have long suspected, that Yahoo is implicated in the arrest of most of the people that we have been defending," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

The group called on Yahoo to pull its e-mail servers out of China. "This way, any request from the Chinese would have to be supervised by ... American justice," said Julien Pain, head of the Internet freedom desk at Reporters Without Borders. "They shouldn't comply with all Chinese demands. It's possible to negotiate with the Chinese authorities. The Chinese wouldn't ban such an important company."

Yahoo is unaware of this latest case, said Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Yahoo Inc. It is "unclear" how the Chinese government obtained Jiang's information, she said.

Yahoo condemns punishment of free expression in any country, and recognizes the need to take local conditions into account when deciding whether to do business outside the U.S., she said. "We also think there's a vital role for government-to-government discussion of the large issue involved," she added.

Chinese police apparently believed Jiang was the leader of a small group of cyber dissidents, including Internet-user Liu Di, who was imprisoned between November 2002 and November 2003. Reporters Without Borders has also blamed Yahoo for helping to implicate Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced in April 2005 to 10 years in prison for divulging state secrets abroad.

In a fourth case, Li Zhi, a Chinese Internet user, was sentenced to eight years in jail for his involvement in the China Democratic Party, and in August 2003, Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) again provided evidence, but it's unclear how much that evidence contributed to his sentence.

The cooperation that Yahoo and other tech companies have given to Chinese authorities has come under heavy criticism from U.S. lawmakers.

In February, Representative Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, introduced legislation that would bar U.S. Internet companies from locating Web servers inside "Internet-restricting" countries such as China. The bill includes penalties of up to five years in prison and a $US2 million fine for officers of companies that willfully violate the restrictions.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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