Yahoo! helps China jail 'dissident' reporter

Search site Yahoo handed information to mandarins in China that allowed them to impose a ten-year jail sentence on a journalist accused of “spreading state secrets,” a media freedom group has declared.

37-year-old, Shi Tao, worked for the daily Contemporary Business News until he was arrested in November, following data that traced him as the sender of a message that contained top-secret details to a foreign website.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the circular was sent by authorities to Tao’s newspaper warning the media not to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre because it could be exploited by dissidents.

RSF said the message warned of the dangers of “social destabilisation” if newspapers covered the event, in a country whose government already controls the flow of independently sourced information.

A court convicted Tao in April of sending foreign-based websites the text of an internal message, which the authorities insisted during trial, was “Jue Mi” – top secret.

The journalist admitted sending out the e-mail from his computer but disputed it was a secret document.

“Yahoo! obviously complied with requests from the Chinese authorities to furnish information regarding an IP address that linked Shi Tao to materials posted online, and the company will yet again simply state that they just conform to the laws of the countries in which they operate,” RSF said in a statement.

The Paris-based group added that court verdicts translated on their behalf reveal authorities were able to link Tao’s personal e-mail account and the specific message containing the secret data to the IP address of his PC.

“We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically with the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know it is a Chinese police informant as well,” RSF added.

Yahoo is currently jockeying for position in China’s huge internet market alongside Google and MSN search, the Microsoft search engine.

In 2002, executives at Yahoo signed the "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry", agreeing to abide by strict censorship regulations.

Searches deemed sensitive by the Chinese authorities such as ‘democracy’ ‘Taiwan independence’ in the Yahoo! China search engine, retrieve only a limited and approved set of results.

However, in this case it appears Yahoo! felt tied by the customary obligation of ISPs to hand over specific information when it is requested by law enforcement and state authorities.

Media freedom lobbyists said China had lost a “good journalist” because Yahoo was “prepared to go to any lengths” to gain market share in the country.

RSF said:“ It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the Chinese government’s abuses and it is quite another thing to collaborate.”

The search company has reportedly defended its actions, telling Reuters that like any other commercial venture, it is must operate within local laws.

It has however failed to answer the appeals from Reporters Without Borders to explain its ethics, despite several written requests to Yahoo executives.


9th September 2005

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