Lawmakers rip into Yahoo over testimony on dissident arrest

US lawmakers at a congressional hearing tear into Yahoo executives over its role in the arrest of a Chinese dissident.

Yahoo aided the Chinese government in the arrest of a journalist, then its general counsel deliberately or negligently mislead the U.S. Congress about the company's role during 2006 testimony, a senior lawmaker charged this week.

Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, also lectured Yahoo and General Counsel Michael Callahan for failing to notify the committee when the company discovered his February 2006 testimony about Yahoo's role in the arrest of journalist Shi Tao. And he questioned why a company with Yahoo's resources has not come to the aid of Shi's family.

Yahoo has had no direct contact with Shi's family, but it has been working to get him released from a 10-year prison sentence, Yahoo co-founder and CEO Jerry Yang told the committee.

But Lantos, one of several lawmakers who criticized Yahoo at the hearing, suggested that wasn't good enough. "Why is it such a complicated issue to help a family whose breadwinner is in prison because of Yahoo's cooperation?" he said.

Yahoo "could do better" to help the family, Yang answered.

"You couldn't do less," Lantos shot back.

Callahan, in February 2006, testified that he did not know the nature of the investigation when Chinese authorities demanded Yahoo China turn over the IP (Internet Protocol) address for a person who turned out to be Shi. Callahan later learned that several employees of Yahoo China knew at the time that the demand for the information was part of an investigation involving "state secrets."

Shi, arrested in November 2004, had used his e-mail account to forward information about a Chinese government ban on reporting about the Tiananmen Square crackdown on the 15th anniversary of the protests. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Callahan and Yang testified that Callahan's earlier testimony resulted from a misunderstanding inside of Yahoo regarding the nature of the Chinese investigation. Both apologized for Yahoo's cooperation with the Chinese investigation and for providing misleading information to Congress. Jailing dissidents "runs counter to all my personal and professional beliefs," Yang said.

It was not Yahoo's intent to mislead Congress, Callahan added.

But Lantos dismissed their explanation, saying state secrets investigations in China are commonly recognized as frequently targeting dissidents. "This was no misunderstanding," he said. "This was inexcusably negligent behavior at best and deliberately deceptive behavior at worst."

Callahan was one of several representatives of U.S. Internet companies who testified before the committee in February 2006 during a hearing on whether the companies were aiding repressive regimes.

Callahan acknowledged that some Yahoo China employees knew the Chinese demand involved a state secrets investigation. But the definition of state secrets in China is broad and doesn't necessarily involve dissidents, he said. Yahoo did not know until later that Chinese authorities were going after a dissident journalist, he said.

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