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Yahoo! settles lawsuit by families of jailed Chinese cyber-dissidents

(RSF/IFEX) - On 14 November 2007, Reporters Without Borders hailed the announcement that the United States Internet company Yahoo! has settled a Californian lawsuit brought by the families of journalist Shi Tao and pro-democracy activist and blogger Wang Xiaoning, who were convicted and imprisoned on information which Yahoo! gave the Chinese authorities.

The announcement came just six days after Yahoo! chief executive officer Jerry Yang and the company's vice-president and senior counsel, Michael Callahan, publicly apologised to the families during a US congressional hearing.

"This is a real relief for the families," Reporters Without Borders said. "The 6 November congressional hearing lent a human face to the tragedy they have been living for years. But this settlement should not end the debate about the involvement that companies such as Yahoo! may have in revealing personal data to the authorities in countries such as China".

The press freedom organisation added: "We hail the efforts of the lawyers of the World Organisation for Human Rights USA (WOHR USA) and the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos, and Congressman Chris Smith. What they did was decisive in ensuring that justice was rendered to the families of Shi and Wang. We reiterate our call for the release of Shi and Wang and of Li Zhi."

It is suspected that at least four Chinese cyber-dissidents have been arrested since 2002 as a result of information which Yahoo! provided to the Chinese authorities. Both Shi and Wang are serving 10-year prison sentences because of the supposedly "subversive" content they posted or exchanged online. Shi was convicted in 2005. Wang was convicted in 2003.

Yang announced that he is going to create a human rights fund dedicated to helping imprisoned cyber-dissidents and their families.

"After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo! and for the future," Yang said. "Yahoo! was founded on the idea that the free exchange of information can fundamentally change how people lead their lives, conduct their business and interact with their governments."

"Yahoo! should extend this aid to the families of Li Zhi and Jiang Lijun and to the families of other cyber-dissidents who have been the victims of Yahoo!'s cooperation with the Chinese authorities," Reporters Without Borders added.

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