Yahoo Inc. may have helped Chinese police to identify an Internet writer who was subsequently jailed for four years for subversion, an advocacy group for journalists said yesterday.
News implicating Yahoo in the imprisonment of Jiang Lijun in 2003 surfaced on the eve of a summit between Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington.
It was the third such case involving the U.S. Internet giant.
Yahoo was accused of providing electronic records to Chinese authorities that led to an eight-year prison term for Li Zhi for subversion in 2003 and of helping to identify Shi Tao, who was accused of leaking state secrets abroad and jailed last year for 10 years.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said it had obtained a copy of the verdict showing that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) helped Chinese police to identify Jiang by confirming that the e-mail account ZYMZd2002 had been used jointly by Jiang and another pro-democracy activist Li Yibing.
"Little by little we are piecing together the evidence for what we have long suspected, that Yahoo! is implicated in the arrest of most of the people that we have been defending," the group said.
"We hope this Internet giant will not, as it has each time it has been challenged previously, hide behind its local partner, Alibaba, to justify its behaviour. Whatever contract it has with this partner, the e-mail service is marketed as Yahoo!," it said.
A Yahoo spokeswoman said the company was not aware of the case of the writer in question or how such information would have been accessed.
"We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world," spokeswoman Mary Osako said.
The watchdog group conceded that the access code could also have been provided by Li, who is suspected of having been a police informer in the case.
The 40-year-old Jiang was accused of seeking to use "violent means" to impose democracy, Reporters Without Borders said.
Police believed Jiang to be the leader of a small group of Internet dissidents, including Liu Di, a university student who was detained for one year and released in November 2003 after police decided against pressing charges.
The case is the latest in a string of examples that highlight the friction between profits and principles for Internet companies doing business in China, the world's number-two Internet market.
Web search giant Google Inc. has come under fire for saying it would block politically sensitive terms on its new China site, bowing to conditions set by Beijing.
In December, Microsoft Corp. shut down a blog at MSN Spaces belonging to outspoken blogger Michael Anti under Chinese government orders.
China has intensified a crackdown on the media in the past year, sacking newspaper editors, arresting journalists and closing publications.
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