Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang is asking U.S. officials to secure the release of political dissidents jailed for using the Internet to share information about life in China.
Several of the dissidents were imprisoned with 10-year sentences after Yahoo provided to the Chinese government evidence from the mens' Yahoo accounts.
In a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Yang writes: "I believe it is essential for our government--led by the State Department--to actively pursue the release of Shi Tao, Wang Xiaoning and other Chinese dissidents who have been imprisoned for exercising internationally recognized rights of expression."
The "window of opportunity to advance the cause of freedom" is now, as Beijing prepares to host the summer Olympics this year, he writes. "Yahoo deeply regrets the circumstances that led to the imprisonment of individuals in China."
It took a lawsuit and a public humiliation in a congressional hearing for Yang to do an about-face on Yahoo's policy in China.
Previously, Yahoo's claimed it had to abide by local laws when conducting business in China--the same defense Google and Microsoft have used.
Yahoo settled the lawsuit in November, agreeing to provide financial support to the families of the jailed men and to create a humanitarian relief fund to support other political dissidents.
A week before that, Yang appeared before a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on his 39th birthday. Lawmakers called him and other Yahoo executives moral pygmies and forced Yang to beg forgiveness from the mother of one of the jailed men as she sat directly behind him crying.
Yahoo wasn't necessarily any worse than Google or Microsoft; Yahoo was just the first to have been publicly caught in the moral quagmire that U.S. companies face when dealing with repressive governments. It's unfortunate that several men were arrested and thrown behind bars before Yahoo changed its mind.