By Benjamin Kang Lim
Yahoo Inc. has been cited in a Chinese court decision to jail a dissident Internet writer for 10 years for subversion in 2003 -- the fourth such case to surface implicating the U.S. Internet giant.
Wang Xiaoning, born in 1951, was convicted of the charge of "incitement to subvert state power" after e-mailing electronic journals advocating a multi-party system, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China (HRIC) said in a statement.
Wang's journals, called Democratic Reform Free Forum and Current Political Commentary, included essays written under his real and pen names and by others advocating democratic reform.
Evidence cited in the verdict included "information provided by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. stating that Wang's "aaabbbccc" Yahoo Group was set up using the mainland China-based e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.," HRIC said.
Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. also confirmed that the e-mail address email@example.com, through which Wang sent messages to his Yahoo Group, was a China-based account, it said.
But the verdict did not indicate whether Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. or Yahoo China -- which is now operated by mainland China-based Alibaba.com -- provided specific information regarding Wang's identity, the watchdog said. Pauline Wong, a spokeswoman for Yahoo Hong Kong, said she did not have any details about Wang's case.
"The Chinese government has never approached Yahoo Hong Kong for any information, and Yahoo Hong Kong has never given any information to the Chinese government," Wong said.
She could not speak for Yahoo China, but said Yahoo companies worldwide are required to comply with local law.
"Wherever law enforcement bodies request information, we would not know the nature of the investigation," she said.
But she added: "We definitely condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognised as freedom of expression, whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world."
The verdict stated that following a search of Wang's home on September1, 2002, police found the offending essays in personal computer files and records of his e-mail traffic, it said.
The verdict also noted that in 2001, administrators of Wang's Yahoo Group noticed the political content of Wang's writings and did not allow him to continue distribution, HRIC said. He then began distributing his electronic journals by e-mail to individual e-mail addresses, HRIC said.
The prosecution's evidence also included statements by two witnesses who had communicated with Wang by e-mail after reading his essays in e-mail or on Web sites, HRIC said.
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.
(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Hong Kong)
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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