Yahoo gave e-mail account data used to imprison journalist

New York, September 7, 2005 ­ The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by news that information provided by Internet giant Yahoo Inc. to the Chinese authorities was used to help convict and jail journalist Shi Tao who wrote an e-mail about media restrictions. Shi was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for “leaking state secrets abroad.” The prosecution was based on a message Shi sent to the editor of a New York-based Web site, which contained Shi’s notes from a Propaganda Department directive to his newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Trade News).

China has repeatedly targeted writers and journalists who use the Internet for legitimate journalistic purposes. More than 20 journalists imprisoned in China at the end of 2004 had distributed information online. It has repeatedly used technology and information made available by foreign companies to block the flow of information.

“China’s chokehold on the use of the Internet for disseminating crucial information and opinion must end,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We categorically condemn the outrageous prosecution of Shi Tao. We call on the Chinese government and Yahoo to provide a full explanation of the circumstances that led the company to provide account holder information,” Cooper added.

The Changsha Intermediate People’s Court lists information provided by Yahoo’s Hong Kong subsidiary as evidence against Shi, according to an English translation of the verdict by the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which advocates for the release of political prisoners in China. “Account holder information furnished by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd., which confirms that for IP address at 11:32:17pm on April 20, 2004, the corresponding information was as follows: user telephone number, 0731-4376362 located at the Contemporary Business News office in Hunan; address: 2F, Building 88, Tianxiang New Village, Kaifu District, Changsha,” the verdict said.

Mary Osako, spokesperson for California-based Yahoo, told CPJ, “Just like any other global company, Yahoo must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.”

Chinese authorities have used broad national security legislation to penalize journalists and others for spreading information that is politically damaging or has not been officially vetted.