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Yahoo! to testify before Congress: a chance for transparency and accountability on business practices in China, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has asked Yahoo! to take advantage of the 6 November 2007 Congress hearing to set the record straight on the company's collaboration with the Chinese authorities. Congress is investigating sworn statements Yahoo! made during a February 2006 Congress hearing regarding its role in cyberdissident Shi Tao's arrest and conviction on a charge of "illegally divulging state secrets abroad," for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"Yahoo!'s confused statements must finally be clarified," the press freedom organization said. "The time for lamentations is over. The company has now to accept the consequences of its mistakes and to act accordingly. At least four cyberdissidents were thrown in jail because of data provided by Yahoo! to the Chinese police. We would be particularly interested in the disclosure of the number of information requests with which Yahoo! complied and whether they concern any of the 32 jailed journalists or the 50 people currently behind bars for expressing themselves freely on the Internet, and how such requests are being processed within the company. This hearing is a chance for Yahoo! not only to show more transparency, but also to discuss the practical steps the company intends to take to prevent its future involvement in dissidents' arrests."

Announcing the investigation on 3 August, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos said it would be shameful if it were confirmed that Yahoo! had known why the Chinese police requested the information that enabled them to arrest Shi. "Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense," Lantos said, adding that, "for a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo! sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for. We expect to learn the truth and to hold the company to account."

Yahoo! executive vice president and general counsel Michael Callahan told the US House Foreign Affairs Committee in February 2006: "we had no information about the nature of the investigation." He was referring to the one targeting Shi Tao, which the Chinese authorities began in 2004. But in fact, China's Department of State Security sent Yahoo! a document dated 22 April 2004, explaining that the authorities wanted information about an Internet user suspected of "illegally providing state secrets to foreign institutions."

Michael Callahan apologised on 1 November for failing to tell US lawmakers that Yahoo! knew more about the case than he initially acknowledged in a testimony last year. "Months after I testified before two House subcommittees on Yahoo!'s approach to business in China, I realized Yahoo! had additional information about a 2004 order issued by the Chinese government seeking information about a Yahoo! China user," Mr Callahan said in a statement. "I neglected to directly alert the committee of this new information and that oversight led to a misunderstanding that I deeply regret and have apologised to the committee for creating," Mr Callahan said. According to the "Financial Times", he is expected to testify that a lawyer for Yahoo! in Asia failed to brief him on the order because the lawyer did not believe it was significant.

Yahoo! Hong Kong's cooperation with the police is mentioned in the Chinese court's verdict against these four cyberdissidents:

- Shi Tao (see above)
- Wang Xiaoning, 55: sentenced to ten years in prison in September 2003 for posting "subversive" articles online
- Li Zhi, 35, sentenced in December 2003 to eight years in prison for "inciting subversion." He had been arrested the previous August after criticizing, in online discussion groups and articles, the corruptive practices of local officials
- Pro-democracy activist, Jiang Lijun, freed on 5 November after completing a four-year sentence. He was convicted of "inciting the subversion of state authorities" following his arrest in 2002, police considered him to be the head of a small group of cyberdissidents, and had previously arrested him several times for posting political articles online.

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