Court papers about cyberdissident Li Zhi confirm that Yahoo! collaborated with the Chinese authorities, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. Yahoo! and local competitor Sina both provided evidence that allowed the Chinese to imprison Li.
Li, a 35-year-old ex-civil servant from Dazhou in south west China, was given an eight-year jail sentence in December 2003 for "inciting subversion" over comments criticising official corruption posted on online discussion groups. He was also accused of mixing with the banned China Democracy Party online.
"The Li Zhi verdict shows that all Internet sector companies are pulled in to help when the police investigate a political dissident," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is unacceptable that US firms should turn themselves into auxiliaries of a government that systematically tramples on the rights of Internet-users to freedom of expression."
The verdict showed that Yahoo! Hong Kong and Sina Beijing had supplied information confirming that Li Zhi had set up an email account using their services. It did not, however, say if the content of messages he sent or received had been handed over to the courts. Court documents revealed that a local telco helped police find Li's address and telephone number based on the IP address used to access Yahoo! and Sina email boxes.
Emails sent by Li and transcripts of chat conversations on Sina.com forum were used in evidence by the Chinese National Security Bureau. Li was accused of getting in touch via the net with Xie Wanjun, head of the banned China Democracy Party. A membership form was apparently also found on his computer.
Last year, Yahoo! was criticised over similar accusations that it bent over backwards to help Beijing gather evidence that led to the imprisonment of reporter Shi Tao for "divulging state secrets", by forwarding an email about the risks of referring to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests to foreign websites. According to Reporters Without Border, 49 cyber-dissidents and 32 journalists are in prison in China over internet postings criticising Chinese authorities. It is calling on Yahoo! China to come clean about how many of these people it has assisted local police in investigating.
The Chinese Government imposes strict control on Internet use. IT giants hoping to tap into the lucrative Chinese net market are coming under increase pressure from human rights groups not to comply with Beijing in censoring the internet. In January, Google came under attack for blocking results from searches on politically sensitive terms on its new Chinese site. Alongside Google and Yahoo!, other IT giants including Microsoft and Cisco have been taken to task for their business practices in China.
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