Yahoo Accused in Jailing of 2nd China Internet User

By Lindsay Beck

BEIJING (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc. provided evidence to Chinese authorities that led to the imprisonment of an Internet writer, lawyers and activists said on Thursday, the second such case involving the U.S. Internet giant.

The latest storm over Western Internet companies in China comes just weeks after Web search giant Google Inc. came under fire for saying it would block politically sensitive terms on its new China site, bowing to conditions set by Beijing.

Writer and veteran activist Liu Xiaobo said Yahoo had cooperated with Chinese police in a case that led to the 2003 arrest of Li Zhi, who was charged with subverting state power and sentenced to eight years in prison after trying to join the dissident China Democracy Party.

Yahoo gave public security agents details of Li's registration as a Yahoo user, Liu said in an article posted on U.S.-based Chinese- language news portal Boxun, citing a defense statement from Li's lawyers.

A spokeswoman for Yahoo said the company was looking into the matter.

"As in most jurisdictions, governments are not required to inform service providers why they are seeking certain information and typically do not do so," spokeswoman Mary Osako said.

"We would not know whether a demand for information focused on murder, kidnapping or another crime," she said by phone from California, adding Yahoo thought the Internet was a positive force in China.

But media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the argument that Yahoo simply responds to requests from authorities did not hold water.

"Yahoo certainly knew it was helping to arrest political dissidents and journalists, not just ordinary criminals," it said in a statement.


The group, along with the Committee to Protect Journalists, also called on Yahoo to disclose information on all Internet journalists and writers whose identities it has revealed to Chinese authorities.

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.

In September, Yahoo was accused of helping Chinese authorities identify Shi Tao, who was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets abroad.

Yahoo defended itself at the time, saying it had to abide by local laws.

In December, Microsoft shut down a blog at MSN Spaces belonging to outspoken blogger Michael Anti under Chinese government orders.

The government has also been pressuring mainstream Internet news Web sites in what analysts say is a tightening of the atmosphere for intellectuals.

A notice issued by the Beijing Internet Propaganda Management Office earlier this week listed media sites it said were reprinting information that went beyond what was lawful.

"At present, do not use what they report on political news; especially do not use them for frontpage news on the Internet," the notice warned.

Its list included the Web sites of adventurous newspapers like Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis News, but also the International Herald Leader, which belongs to the state news agency Xinhua, and regional dailies such as the Lanzhou Morning News.

Print editions have also been targeted.

Chen Jieren, the chief editor of the Beijing-based Public Interest Times, was sacked on Wednesday over a report criticizing authorities, the South China Morning Post said.

The case follows the dismissals of the editor of the outspoken Beijing News and the closure of Freezing Point, the weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily known for its critical commentaries and investigative reporting.

(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Hong Kong and Guo Shipeng in Beijing)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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