08 November 2007

Yahoo! chiefs 'lied over China dissident'

Yahoo! chiefs 'lied over China dissident'
Catherine Rampell in Washington
November 8, 2007

MEMBERS of Congress have accused Yahoo! of lying about its co-operation with the Chinese Government in an incident that led to a dissident's imprisonment.

Congressmen said on Tuesday that one of Yahoo!'s executives testified falsely last year about how much it knew about China's 2004 investigation into Shi Tao, a Yahoo! user.

The executive had said the company "had no information about the nature of the investigation" when it received a demand for Mr Shi's email records from China's State Security Ministry. In fact, the demand specifically said the information was for "a case of suspected illegal provision of state secrets", a charge frequently made against dissidents.

When Yahoo! executives took note of the language, they did not alert Congress to correct the record.

"While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies," the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Tom Lantos, a Democrat, told Yahoo!'s chief executive, Jerry Yang, and general counsel, Michael Callahan, who testified on Yahoo!'s co-operation last year.

Mr Callahan attributed misinformation he supplied last year to a misunderstanding. "At the time … it was my understanding that the Shi Tao demand contained no information regarding the specific details of the investigation," he said in a statement. "I now know that the demand did contain additional information."

Congressmen insisted the company discipline the people responsible for briefing Mr Callahan and that Yahoo! provide assistance to Mr Shi's family. Yahoo! said no one who helped prepare the original testimony had been fired.

Mr Shi's mother, Gao Qinsheng, was sitting directly behind Mr Yang at Tuesday's hearing. When Mr Lantos urged Mr Yang to apologise, he swivelled his chair towards her, and, with a flushed face, bowed slightly. He later apologised to Ms Gao but would not commit to compensating her for her son's imprisonment.

Ms Gao and the family of Wang Xiaoning, another dissident imprisoned after Yahoo! allegedly identified him to Chinese authorities, are suing Yahoo!. Mr Wang's wife was also at the hearing.

"Because Yahoo! did this, they almost killed my son," Ms Gao said in a recent interview.

The Washington Post