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Rights Group Says Yahoo May Have Lied to Congress


A human rights group says new evidence has emerged that, if genuine, suggests the internet company Yahoo lied to the U.S. Congress about its role in the conviction of Chinese political dissidents. Yahoo says the suggestion is false. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

The allegation is based on information circulating on the Internet this week. It appears to show that Chinese police clearly informed Yahoo they were investigating political dissidents when they asked the company to turn over private e-mails and account information.

The key items are notices from the Chinese police to Yahoo, translated by the Dui Hua group, a San Francisco-based group that promotes human rights in China. According to Dui Hua's translations, the notices informed Yahoo that the police were investigating separate cases involving the "leaking of state secrets to foreigners" and "subversion."

Dui Hua says it believes the notices are genuine.

The Chinese authorities have often used the vague charge of "revealing state secrets" to silence dissidents.

Dui Hua says Yahoo subsequently handed over information the police used as evidence to convict dissident writers Wang Xiaoning in 2003, and Shi Tao in 2005. Both were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Yahoo's general counsel, Michael Callahan, testified before the U.S. Congress last year that Chinese police never told Yahoo the nature of the investigation when it asked for the information, and the company was merely complying with Chinese law in handing it over.

Vincent Brossel, who heads the Asia Pacific Desk for the Paris-based press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders, says if the notices prove to be genuine, it would show that Callahan was either not fully informed by Yahoo executives, or he lied to Congress.

"If Mr. Callahan got this information and he did not provide it to the Congress, it is something very serious," Brossel said. "So we hope that again, Yahoo must give the truth and all the truth about this case. And they have a huge responsibility."

Yahoo declined a request by VOA for an interview. But company spokesman Jim Cullinan said in an e-mailed statement that Callahan's testimony was "accurate and forthright." He repeated Yahoo's position that the Chinese government did not disclose the nature of the investigation was related to dissident activity.

Cullinan said only Chinese officials could confirm whether the police notices were genuine.

Brossel says Yahoo is one of several Internet companies that have compromised their ethical principles in order to gain access to China's massive internet market, which is now estimated at 162 million users.

"From the beginning to the end there is absolutely no ethical principles in how the big companies have been accessing the Internet market in China," Brossel said.

U.S.-based Cisco Corporation has sold equipment the Chinese government allegedly uses for filtering Internet content the government does not want the Chinese people to see. The Internet companies Google and MSN, a Microsoft affiliate, have censored the Chinese versions of their Web sites in order to avoid angering Chinese officials.

The Dui Hua Foundation says Yahoo has handed over account information of at least two other dissidents who received prison sentences. Li Zhi was sentenced to eight years and Jiang Lijun to four years in 2003 on similar subversion charges.

The families of Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning are both suing Yahoo in U.S. federal court. The lawsuits seek to stop the company from providing private information to Chinese authorities that could be used for political purposes.

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