Yahoo blamed in China activist jailing
(Washington Times, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 20--Yahoo Inc. helped Chinese police identify an Internet activist who was sentenced to four years in prison for his pro-democracy postings, according to a copy of the verdict obtained by a human rights group.
Jiang Lijun, 39, was sentenced for subversive activities on Nov. 18, 2003. He was accused of being the leader of a group of political dissidents and of seeking to use violence to impose democracy, including a plan to disrupt a Communist Party Congress by phoning in a false bomb scare to police, according to the copy, obtained and translated into English by the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco human rights group.
Mr. Jiang is the third person to be imprisoned based on information Yahoo provided to Chinese police, according to Reporters Without Borders, an international group devoted to press freedom that announced the case yesterday as Chinese President Hu Jintao continued his U.S. visit with a stop in Washington state.
Mr. Hu is scheduled to meet with President Bush today at the White House.
Yahoo Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong provided user information for the e-mail account used jointly by Li Yibing and Mr. Jiang, and confirmed the registration data for that mailbox, according to the verdict. "In that user's drafts folder was saved a draft e-mail entitled 'Declaration,' saved on September 25, the contents of which were the same as the 'Freedom and Democracy Party Program' and 'Declaration of Establishment' recovered" from other users.
The verdict did not specify whether the "Declaration" had been provided by Yahoo. "The access code could also have been provided by Li Yibing, who is suspected of having been a police informer in the case," according to Reporters Without Borders.
"We know for a fact that Yahoo confirmed the registration data that the mailbox was used by both people," Julien Payne, the Paris-based chief of the group's Internet freedom desk, said yesterday.
Yahoo was unaware of Mr. Jiang's case, said Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.
"We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world," she said.
It is unfair to blame Yahoo for the government's action in this case without proof, said Andrew D. Lipman, a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP in Washington who specializes in Internet and telecommunications issues and is not affiliated with Yahoo.
"In China, there's multiple opportunities for the government to identify Jiang Lijun without implicating any Internet provider," Mr. Lipman said. "It's speculative to lay the blame at the doormat of any American company when cyberprotection in China is nonexistent."
John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, said he was satisfied that the copy of the verdict obtained in the case was authentic but acknowledged that questions remained.
"The Chinese police could have gotten access without Yahoo," Mr. Kamm said yesterday. "We just don't know. We really need to understand better how Yahoo is approached."
Many U.S. companies have a protocol in place when police arrive unexpectedly asking for information, specifically that the meeting occur privately with a company attorney and witness present, Mr. Kamm said. "We're trying to find out what happened," he said. "Does [Yahoo] have a procedure in place that follows corporate governance?"
"That's the best question of all," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, who has introduced legislation that would require U.S. companies to keep their e-mail servers, which contain the personal user data used by police, outside repressive countries to eliminate jurisdiction.
Mr. Smith peppered a Yahoo executive with similar queries at a hearing in February, when lawmakers also criticized representatives from Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc., saying they helped the Chinese government suppress its 111 million Internet users' freedoms online.
Lawmakers were particularly angered by the cases of Shi Tao and Li Zhi, in which Yahoo provided information to police that resulted in imprisonment for political dissidence, and that the search-engine companies agreed to censor queries to eliminate words such as "democracy."
At that hearing, Mr. Smith asked Michael Callahan, Yahoo's senior vice president and general counsel, what terms and conditions the Chinese police were using to demand company data.
Mr. Callahan said that because the records were protected by Chinese law, he could not share that information or divulge how many personal records had been shared with the Communist government.
"That's absurd," Mr. Smith said yesterday, after an unrelated hearing on human rights in China during which he announced the latest Yahoo case.
"There are probably dozens, if not hundreds of people who have been [put in prison] and tortured as a result of Yahoo opening up its e-mail servers."
"We're hoping through these exercises that we do learn more, and once we do, we can take effective measures to stop it ... or at least make it more difficult for the cops to do it," Mr. Kamm said.
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