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Yahoo in China human rights case

Yahoo! is facing legal action from human rights group The World Organisation, over the digital giant's alleged involvement in the handover of personal information to the Chinese government, which was used to convict and torture internet users on censorship grounds.

The World Organisation has filed a lawsuit in the US against Yahoo!, for handing over information on three internet users who spoke out against the Chinese government and were subsequently convicted of charges of breaking the country's tough freedom of speech laws.

The human rights group states it has strong evidence that two people, Wang Xiaoning, who is serving a 10-year sentence for writing articles calling for democratic reform in China, and his wife Yu Ling, have been tortured by the Chinese authorities during their time in prison.

Yahoo! admits to handing over the email and IP addresses of Xiaoning and Ling, but said it had a duty to comply with the laws of the countries in which it operates and denies any involvement in the detention of the convicted.

In a separate case, Chinese journalist Shi Tao is serving a 10-year sentence for making comments about the Tiananmen Square massacre. The World Organisation said Tao's conviction came as a result of information that was handed over to the Chinese authorities.

The prosecution case, which was brought by The World Organisation in San Francisco yesterday, states that Yahoo! has failed in its "ethical responsibilities" by not asking the Chinese government what it intended to use the personal details for.

The organisation claims that the three convicted individuals have been tortured and subjected to other human rights abuses in China, which has the fastest growing internet market in the world.

In a statement, a Yahoo! spokeswoman said: "This is a political and diplomatic issue, not a legal one. The real issue here is the plaintiff's outrage at the behaviour and laws of the Chinese government. The US court system is not the forum for addressing these political concerns."

Yahoo! states that it has knowingly handed over personal details to the Chinese authorities in the past, but said there was "little connection" between the information and the arrest, conviction and charge of the accused.

China, which has some of the toughest internet censorship laws in the world, has a ban on all foreign media and has been known to incarcerate individuals making pro-Western and anti-Chinese comments on all forms of internet communication, including blogs, emails, forums and in the online press.

China's treatment of "cyber dissidents" has led human rights campaigners such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, to question Google, Microsoft and other internet company's business practices in China.

Google, which set up a censored Chinese language search engine in 2005, came under intense criticism for seemingly advocating internet censorship by complying with the Chinese government's demands on preventing searches on a host of subjects, including Tiananmen Square, Tibet, democracy, and Falun Gong.

Morton Sklar, executive director of at The World Organisation, said: "While it's clear that American corporations are obliged to follow foreign laws, they also must abide by US and international law."

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