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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Yahoo Helped China Jail Another Democracy Advocate

Yahoo provided information to the Chinese government that helped them jail Li Zhi, a democracy advocate. Li was given an eight-year sentence in 2003 for subverting the state power and inciting subversion, which is the shocking crime of trying to join the Chinese Democratic Party. Li had also been critical of the corruption of local government officials in online discussion groups. Li was convicted on the basis of information Yahoo provided about his email account and Yahoo user name activity. Yahoo had recently provided the Chinese government with information that was used to put journalist Shi Tao in jail for ten years.

Students for a Free Tibet has already launch an online action campaign calling for Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco to end their partnership with the Chinese government. SFT is also leading the way in opposing Google's partnership in censorship with the Chinese government through NoLuv4Google; click here to tell Google to stop helping the Chinese government block access to information about Tibet, human rights, and other important topics.

Yahoo said this in an email to an SFT supporter who'd expressed her outrage over their censorship of information and role as an informant on journalists:
We are proud of our role in expanding opportunities for Chinese citizens to enjoy the significant benefits of the Internet. Yahoo! Search gives Chinese users an ability to access various independent, non-government sponsored sources of information of interest to them, fostering a more outward-looking population.

[...]

We balance the requirement to comply with laws that are not necessarily consistent with our own values against our strong belief that active involvement in China contributes to the continued modernization of the country - as well as a benefit to Chinese citizens - through the advancement of communications, commerce and access to information. The Internet is a positive force in China and a growing Chinese middle class is benefiting greatly from more education, communication, technology, and independent sources of information.
Their response would be laughable, were it not so reprehensible. Both the Li and Shi cases show that Chinese users of Yahoo can expect to have their search records and emails turned over to the government at the drop of a hat. Whatever information they are able to access may soon be grounds for arrest and imprisonment. Yahoo's caveat emptor seems to be that it is the users fault if they take the dangerous step of using their services when trying to promote the truth and democracy in a totalitarian regime. Yahoo has reserved no rights to protect privacy in a country with a government that doesn't want it's people to have access to information that might threaten their control. What's more, progress for the people of Tibet and China is irreparably damaged every time a blogger, journalist, or activist advocating democracy is tossed in jail on meaningless charges. Look at the evidence that convicted Li Zhi:
According to this defense statement, Li Zhi has been charged with the criminal act of "attempting to overthrow the socialist system," on the basis of three points: 1. Applying three times to an overseas hostile organization in order to join the China Democracy Party and receiving an appointment; 2. Establishing a personal web page at Muzi web site, propagandizing hostile thoughts; 3. Inciting others to join the China Democracy Party.

The fourth section of the defense statement challenges the criminal evidence presented by the government, including the part mentioning that Yahoo Hong Kong Ltd provided evidence, as follows:

“ (2) On August 1, 2003, Yahoo Hong Kong Ltd provided to the public security agency Proof of the User's Information, 'provided relevant information about user lizhi340100,' and also explained 'for more detailed information, see attached documents. The Attached documents include the user's registered information and email from that account.' Therefore the part that can be considered evidence is the content of that attachment. But the attachment was not provided to the court. According to Yahoo's explanation, the content of the attachments not only reflects the situation of the mail exchanges, but also can have the function of “resolving some doubts.” Therefore, we hope the court will review the attachment. We certainly hope the defense lawyers will be allowed to review the documents so we can understand the full situation in order to defend our client. This is a matter of the rights of our client. Please remedy this situation.”
China would not have been able to jail this dissident -- and by dissident I mean a brave person who wants to bring democracy and freedom to China -- without the help of Yahoo. Blogger and internet advocate Rebecca MacKinnon has this to say about Yahoo's now common role as informant for the Chinese government:
A company that cares about human rights should not put user data in jurisdictions where full compliance with the law makes collaboration with human rights violations inevitable. Either they did not think this through before setting up their Chinese e-mail service or they don't care.
I agree. One solution to Yahoo's (and Google, Microsoft and Cisco's) ethics problem would be for the US government to create legislation that would ban US internet companies from handing over their users' records to the Chinese government, especially when it might endanger the user. These companies are well aware of the sites their customers are using -- they store the information, hence China's desire to have access to it -- and should be made to promise that they won't assist the Chinese government in the repression of democracy and freedom. At issue may well be China's requirement that American companies follow their laws, when in fact these censorship and disclosure laws are a real barrier to ethical business inside China.

US companies should not be compelled to give up information that helps the Chinese government imprison dissidents. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco have repeatedly proved that they are incapable of standing by American values while dealing with the Chinese government. They are making a mockery of free speech, free information, and democracy by helping the Chinese government imprison, censor, repress, and propagandize over the internet. If this is what it takes, it's time for these companies to be given the protection of the US government to resist China's calls for private user information.

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