August 27, 2007 4:37 PM PDT

Yahoo files to dismiss China human rights suit

Yahoo on Monday filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by two Chinese journalists who alleged that the Internet company and its subsidiaries "willingly" handed over information about their online writing to the People's Republic of China.

The case hinges on a lawsuit filed in April in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. Plaintiffs Shi Tao, Wang Xiaoning--two pro-democracy advocates--and Yu Ling (Wang's wife) charged Yahoo and its Hong Kong subsidiary with allegedly divulging information about their online activity and pro-democracy writing to Chinese authorities, an act that ultimately caused their arrest and prosecution, according to the filing. Both men were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In a 51-page motion to dismiss, filed with the district court, Yahoo argued that the case has no merit.

"This is a lawsuit by citizens of China imprisoned for using the Internet in China to express political views in violation of China law. It is a political case challenging the laws and actions of the Chinese government. It has no place in the American courts," according to Yahoo's motion.

The motion is the latest development in a long-running dispute over the responsibilities of U.S. Internet companies in general to protect the anonymity of users in the foreign countries where they operate. Yahoo Hong Kong is a focus of the case because at the time of the plaintiffs' Internet activity, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo was the sole owner of that subsidiary; but now, Chinese company Alibaba holds a majority stake in that company.

Yet Yahoo is not alone in facing these kinds of complaints: Google, Microsoft and other U.S. Internet companies have come under fire for their policies of cooperating with the Chinese government in recent years.

According to Monday's filing, Chinese journalist Shi, a reporter at Contemporary Business News in mainland China, was prosecuted after he e-mailed foreign reporters information issued by the Chinese government warning of possible trouble around the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Shi sent the document through an anonymous account, but the authorities tracked him down because Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary allegedly supplied an IP address connecting a PC to a message containing his information. The government considered the content of the e-mail a "state secret," according to the filing.

Shi was arrested in November 2004 and pleaded guilty to the charges four months later. He's currently serving a 10-year sentence in a prison known for abusive treatment of prisoners, according to the filing.

Shi's co-plaintiff, Wang, also worked as an editor at a pro-democracy publication in mainland China, before being imprisoned by the government for "incitement to subvert state power," according to the filing. He was convicted in July 2003 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. His wife is suing Yahoo and its subsidiary because she has endured "severe psychological and emotional suffering" as a result of the detention, according to the filing.

Yahoo spokeswoman Kelley Benander said the company is a strong believer of human rights and it respects freedom of expression and privacy around the world. But she said that the case is about a political and diplomatic issue, and not about a legal issue.

"Yahoo deeply sympathizes with the plaintiffs and their families and does not condone the suppression of their rights and liberty by their government," according to the filing.

"But Yahoo has no control over the sovereign government of the People's Republic of China, the laws it passes, and the manner in which it enforces its laws," according to the filing. "Neither (Yahoo company) can be held liable for the independent acts of the PRC just because a former Yahoo subsidiary in China obeyed a lawful government request for the collection of evidence relevant to a pending investigation."

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19 comments

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Wonderfull
How low can some companies can get on their human rights stance
to be able to get a bite of the Chinese market.... (That was ironic).
Yahoo's downstep on human rights open ways into the Chinese
government continued choke on civil society in China.
Posted by MacHeads (70 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Of course
I guess as long as it pays, it is ok to follow anybody's laws.

Yahoo is chicken. Can't they withold their service in violently oppressive regimes? I guess not.
Posted by noahmagnuson (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
China is a foreign country
, and Yahoo China is a business entity in China. How can one expect it to be "excluded" from local law?! The only way to do that is pull out from China, if that is what one expected.

I am actually surprise the US court is taking the case, that is a waste of court time and tax payer money.

For people in most western countries, democracy and freedom of speech is taken for granted, but that is not the case in every countries in the world, and definitely not in China today. People living in China, especially those openly voicie their political point of view publicly, either through newspaper, radio or the internet, are well aware of the risk. They are well educated and couragous, but they can't expect other people in China (eg. local people working for Yahoo China) to risk their life/career for them. Not everyone are willing to go that far.

And for the two person filing the case, after being 'defeated' by the China government, try shifting the battle field to US court and get $$ from a US company, nice try.
Posted by JunkSiu (72 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed
Most people in the west are highly ignorant of these facts that you have mentioned. I am surprised that people comment on things even without understanding the subject matter. If they are really worried about human rights than they should appeal their congressmen/senators to put curbs on economic relations with china. Afterall, that is the key to their arrogance and might. Guess what - everyone wants $5 table lamp made in china. It is not Yahoo who is chicken - it is us. All of us who depend on china's investment in US securities to keep our Dollar floating. If we had guts to say anything to China over Tiananmen Square massacre than we should openly debate that. Flexing muscles on small countries like Iraq and Afghanistan doesn't show our bravery. Lets take on N. Korea and China if you have balls.
Posted by niravabhavsar (74 comments )
Link Flag
This link might shine another light.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6966116.stm" target="_newWindow">http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6966116.stm</a>

As far as i am concerned i consider providing information to an
repressive government that would lead to arbitrary degrading
treatment is just plain ethically wrong on this type of matter. We
are not talking about terrorism but about people doing what
transparency.org type of organization would state.
Posted by MacHeads (70 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Human Rights are the same Everywhere
I agree with Machead. That the Red Chinese government (or the
US government or the UK government or the Indian government)
is in the habit of violating the right to religion and free speech
does not eliminate the right; it just shows that the government
needs to be reformed. And it's no excuse for US citizens of
German citizens or Japanese citizens or Hong Kong citizens or
citizens of the People's Republic of China to be complicit in any
government's abuses.
Posted by BatmanG8 (74 comments )
Link Flag
Where have we heard this before?
They were only following orders! Eh?
Posted by brquayle (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Shame on Yahoo
you just lost a customer yahoo...if you would have done the right thing instead of selling out peoples lives for more profit you might have kept me and maybe millions of others who agree as clients...so now that I have practiced my right to free speach will I be arrested if I go to china will this website provide my personal info??? where does it end...
Posted by easyride (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
charity begins at home
It is about time that the U.S. and its people start fixing the problems at home, before trying to fix all of the problems abroad.
Posted by kirk addis (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Help Shi Tao with Amnesty International
I found his Cause on Amnesty International. Writing letters has been the only successful way of getting these issues done, and even though it takes a lot of letters, If every one sends one it will make a difference. Take a stand against Human Rights Abusers! <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.amnestyusa.org/Prisoners_of_Conscience/Shi_Tao/page.do?id=1101243&#38;n1=3&#38;n2=34&#38;n3=53" target="_newWindow">http://www.amnestyusa.org/Prisoners_of_Conscience/Shi_Tao/page.do?id=1101243&#38;n1=3&#38;n2=34&#38;n3=53</a>
Click on the take online action if you wish to send an online letter. Down with Yahoo!
Posted by FerociousFeline (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
A dose of reality
Listen, is what China does bad...Yes. None of us here agree with how their people are being treated, but you are talking about a Chinese company in China. If you don't obey the law they shut you down, it's just that simple.

The real bad guy here is the Chinese government not Yahoo. The Chinese people will have to take back power from their government, US companies can't fight their battles for them. Yahoo not complying would be no better than someone saying here that just because they don't like the law that they are somehow entitled to just go break it. That is called anarchy.

Put simply the laws need to be changed, and that is far outside the realm of what Yahoo is even capible of doing. You want to put real pressure on China to mend their ways, boycott them. The USSR fell due to bad finances, that's how you need to put pressure on China.

You just can't hold a US company liable for the conduct of a forign nation. They are just as bound by local laws as any of us would be if we went there.
Posted by netlord80 (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
actively abetting
What Yahoo! (and Cisco and M$ and Google...) are being
criticized for is active cooperation with the Red Chinese thugs
when they should be at least passively resisting, "Oh, those log
files got deleted. Too bad. Must've been one of the new interns
from India. We'll have some stiff words for them at the annual
review... if we remember. But you can be assured, just as you've
taken measures to allow the currency to float, that serious
measures will be taken... some day... maybe... if we feel like it.".
Posted by BatmanG8 (74 comments )
Link Flag
reality
I guess by,this logic, it would have been OK for American corporations to have turned Jews over to the Nazi.
Posted by ccr37 (6 comments )
Link Flag
FOUL!
They didn't say they were following orders. They said they were obeying the law. You don't get to compare Yahoo to the perpetrators of the Holocaust for this.

Do you think that foreign companies operating in the US should obey US law, or the laws of their own country?
Posted by eric.meyerson (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where are you going to go?
Please let me know when you find a company that successfully operates in China while ignoring the government there.
Posted by eric.meyerson (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Boycott Yahoo!
This is another indication of greed overriding righteousness. I say we take a more proactive approach and boycott Yahoo! Give our searches elsewhere. Even if it's just for a while, we need to hurt Yahoo! where it counts- In their profit line. I just wish there was a nonprofit search engine out there that doesn't give into greed.
Posted by AlexDuped (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Boycott everything Chinese
Why not also boycott everything made in China or any company that does business with China? They are the ones violating human rights.
Posted by niravabhavsar (74 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe Yahoo should file a lawsuit against the U.S. government for allowing 20 million illegals into this country to rob us blind. They use their childrens social security numbers(born here) to get as much assistance as possible, such as rent subsidies, utility assistance, food stamps, medicaid for their children, work for businesses and don't pay income taxes. We spend approximately 400 billion tax payers dollars each year on them and yet when we crack down on them some liberal civil rights degenerate sticks up for them. Our government obviously wants this to be a third world country so we live just like them. If we don't pay taxes we go to jail, if we carry fake I.D. we have to pay for it because the systems knows where we are, we have 60 days to change our driver's license and plate, but I bet all those Latino's with Pennsylvania, Massachusett's, North Carolina, and MIchigan plates that you see all over the New Jersey area are obviously illegals. If a U.S. citizen does something illegal we get arrested, for them the y get released and run using another name or just don't care at all because they feel that the can't be touch(arrogant). We spend approx. 300 million dollars a year to print in Spanish on just about everything because, they feel as those we should cater to them. This is the only country in the world that allows this, could it be because corporate America has paid off elected officials, so that they don't have to pay medical benefits. Instead our tax dollars will pay for them every time they use the emergency room as a doctors office. Remember all of this because our country and our future generations are going to be severely effected if not destroyed by this. No, I don't hate Latinos, they should be contributing just like the rest of those from all over the world who have come here and pay taxes and eventually get their citizenship.
Posted by kirk addis (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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