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Yahoo! assists Chinese dissident conviction

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Updated Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has accused Yahoo! of going out of its way to help Chinese authorities to convict a "dissident journalist".

Shi Tao was sentenced in April to 10 years imprisonment for "divulging state secrets" partly on the basis of evidence supplied by Yahoo!. Reporters Without Borders said it "provided China's state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him".

"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! is attempting to downplay the row by saying it was simply complying with local laws in assisting the Chinese authorities. Yahoo! Spokeswoman Mary Osako said: "Just like any other global company, Yahoo! must ensure that its local country sites operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based."

Tiananmen dissident link

According to court papers, Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. gave Chinese investigators information that linked information treated as a "state secret" to the IP address of Shi's computer via his use of Yahoo!mail. Shi, 37, and a former staffer on the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News) was convicted in April of sending foreign websites the text of a message from the authorities warning journalists of the dangers of "social destabilisation" from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) is subject to Hong Kong legislation, which fails to detail the responsibilities of ISPs in these situations. Nonetheless, it is reportedly customary for ISPs to hand over information to the police if confronted by a court order, regardless of whether it is enforceable or not. Yahoo!'s actions in the case raise questions about how far Western companies will go in collaborating with state repression.

Reporters Without Borders said: "Yahoo! will yet again simply state that they just conform to the laws of the countries in which they operate. 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?"

"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."

Last month Yahoo! acquired a large stake in the Chinese internet firm Alibaba for approximately $1bn. 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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