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The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is calling for a boycott of Yahoo! because of its "unethical behaviour" in China.

Yahoo! has been criticised for cooperating with Chinese law enforcement. It has given details of at least three people to Chinese authorities who were subsequently imprisoned. The most recent of these was Shi Tao who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "divulging state secrets" - he forwarded a government email sent to journalists warning them not to report on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square because it could encourage trouble.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: "The NUJ regards Yahoo!'s actions as a completely unacceptable endorsement of the Chinese authorities. As a result, the NUJ will be cancelling all Yahoo!-operated services and advising all members to boycott Yahoo! until the company changes its irresponsible and unethical policy." Read the NUJ statement here.

Seventeen years after the Tiananmen Square massacre many companies are cooperating with Chinese authorities in blocking content that Beijing considers distasteful. Microsoft was recently accused, but denied, handing over details of a dissident journalist. Other companies such as Google co-operate in blocking content in line with Chinese government demands.

A spokeswoman for the NUJ said it was still waiting for a response from Yahoo!. She said other companies may be added to the boycott in future. She could not offer any advice as to alternative services to use.

Yahoo! sent us the following (apologies for length):

Mary Osako at Yahoo! said: “The facts of the Shi Tao case are distressing to our company, our employees, and our leadership. We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression, whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world. We have made our views clearly known to the Chinese government.

“When Yahoo! China in Beijing was required to provide information about the user, who we later learned was Shi Tao, we had no information about the nature of the investigation. We were unaware of the particular facts surrounding the case until the news story emerged. Law enforcement agencies in China, the United States, and elsewhere typically do not explain to information technology companies or other businesses why they demand specific information regarding certain individuals. In many cases, Yahoo! does not know the real identity of individuals for whom governments request information, as very often our users subscribe to our services without using their real names.

“At the time the demand was made for information in this case, Yahoo! China was legally obligated to comply with the requirements of Chinese law enforcement. When we had operational control of Yahoo! China, we took steps to make clear our Beijing operation would honor such instructions only if they came through authorized law enforcement officers and only if the demand for information met rigorous standards establishing the legal validity of the demand.

“When we receive a demand from law enforcement authorized under the law of the country in which we operate, we must comply. This is a real example of why this issue is bigger than any one company and any one industry. All companies must respond in the same way. When a foreign telecommunications company operating in the United States receives an order from U.S. law enforcement, it must comply. Failure to comply in China could have subjected Yahoo! China and its employees to criminal charges, including imprisonment. Ultimately, U.S. companies in China face a choice: comply with Chinese law, or leave.

“The choice in China or other countries is not whether to comply with law enforcement demands for information. Rather, the choice is whether or not to remain in a country. We balance the requirement to comply with laws that are not necessarily consistent with our own values against our strong belief that active involvement in China contributes to the continued modernization of the country — as well as a benefit to Chinese citizens — through the advancement of communications, commerce and access to information.

“We believe that the internet is a positive force in China and a growing Chinese middle class is benefiting greatly from more education, communication, and technology.”

NB

It's also important to correct inaccurate reports that Yahoo! Hong Kong gave information to the Chinese government. This is absolutely untrue. Yahoo! Hong Kong was not involved in any disclosure of information about Mr. Shi to the Chinese government. In this case, the Chinese government ordered Yahoo! China to provide user information, and Yahoo! China complied with Chinese law. To be clear - Yahoo! China and Yahoo! Hong Kong have always operated independently of one another. There was not then, nor is there today, any exchange of user information between Yahoo! Hong Kong and Yahoo! China."

Amnesty International has called on Yahoo! to act more responsibly in China. More here. ®

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