Yahoo boss blasted over China case
Company faces criticism in US congress over role in jailing of China dissident.
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2007 06:44 GMT

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, second left, apologised
to Shi Tao's family over the case [GALLO/GETTY]

The head of Yahoo has faced strong criticism in the US congress over his company's role in the jailing of Chinese journalist Shi Tao.
Appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Jerry Yang, founder and CEO of the internet giant, was pilloried by Republicans and Democrats over his approach to the case.

"While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies," Democrat Representative Tom Lantos, chairman of the committee, told Yang and Michael Callahan, Yahoo's general counsel, at the three-hour hearing.

He said he did not believe "that America's best and brightest companies should be playing integral roles in China's notorious and brutal political repression apparatus".


"While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies"

Tom Lantos,
chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Chris Smith, a Republican committee member, compared Yahoo's co-operation with the Chinese government to companies that co-operated with Nazi Germany.


Shi, a pro-democracy journalist, was sentenced last April to 10 years in jail after he was accused of leaking state secrets.


The case centred on an email from Chinese authorities directing journalists to avoid coverage of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which Shi forwarded to foreign human rights groups using his Yahoo email account.


Chinese authorities demanded Yahoo hand over information identifying Shi and his online activities.




In video

Watch Tony Cheng's full report here

Yahoo has insisted that under Chinese law it was obliged to provide information requested by the Chinese authorities on its users.


But human rights groups and several members of the US congress have accused Yahoo of placing its own commercial interests in China ahead of its moral obligations.


During Tuesday's hearing, Yang apologised to the committee and to Shi's family, several members of whom attended the hearing, saying Yahoo was doing what it could to help get Shi released.


"I want to say that we're committed to do what we can to secure their freedom and I want to personally apologise to them for what they and their family are going through," he said.


Yu Ling, the wife of another Chinese dissident who was also jailed after Yahoo! allegedly surrendered information on him to authorities, was also at the hearing.




Yang, who emigrated to the US from Taiwan as a child, added that Yahoo did not know that the personal information sought by the Chinese government involved a political dissident when it turned over the data.

"I don't think anyone was trying to do anything wrong," he said.


But that did not sit well with Lantos, the committee chairman, who hit out at what he called Yahoo's "spineless and irresponsible actions".


Journalist Shi Tao was arrested and jailed for
10 years by Chinese authorities [AP]
"If you think our witnesses today are uncomfortable sitting in this climate controlled room... imagine how life is for Shi Tao, spending 10 long years in a Chinese dungeon for exchanging information publicly - exactly what Yahoo claims to support in places like China," he said.


The two Yahoo executives would not commit to providing financial help to Shi's family, despite pressure from the several committee members to do so.


The Foreign Affairs Committee is investigating statements made by Callahan at a congressional hearing in February last year.


At the time he said that Yahoo had no information about the nature of the Chinese government's investigation of Shi when the company turned over information about him.


Callahan has since acknowledged that Yahoo officials had received a document that made reference to suspected "illegal provision of state secrets" - a common charge against political dissidents.


During Tuesday's hearing Callahan said the company was looking for ways to structure its operations in other countries to keep data out of the hands of government authorities.


But Yang told the committee he still believes in a policy of "engagement" with China, saying that despite restrictions the internet has made Chinese people more informed.


"It's very important to figure out how to move forward here," Yang said.


He stopped short, however, of endorsing a bill pending in the House of Representatives that would bar US internet companies from turning over personal information to governments that use it to suppress dissent.


The Global Online Freedom Act would also give individuals the right to sue companies in a US federal court if their information was improperly disclosed.

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