A Chinese journalist currently serving a 10-year prison term for disseminating state secrets has joined a U.S. lawsuit that accuses Internet company Yahoo! Inc. of assisting Chinese authorities with abuses of human rights.
Shi Tao, a former editor with the Dandai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News), was convicted April 30, 2005 for sharing online an internal government message that warned of civil unrest during the 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre and that recommended media restrictions. (See “Endangered Journalists: Yahoo! Assists China in Arresting Journalists” in the Fall 2005 issue of the Silha Bulletin, and “Chinese Journalists Battle Censorship, Yahoo!” in the Winter 2006 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)
On May 29, Shi added his name to the two other named plaintiffs in the suit, Wang Xiaoning and his wife Yu Ling. Wang has been incarcerated since 2003 on a charge of “incitement to subvert state power” because he allegedly distributed pro-democracy articles through a Yahoo! e-mail account and subscriber list.
The suit claims that Yahoo! Inc., along with subsidiary Yahoo! Hong Kong and partner Alibaba.com, Inc., have voluntarily provided e-mail content, e-mail addresses, and user account information to Chinese authorities, thus “knowingly and willfully aid[ing] and abet[ting]…the commission of torture and other major abuses violating international law that caused Plaintiffs’ severe physical and mental suffering.”
According to the Associated Press, Yahoo! has acknowledged turning over information on Shi, citing a policy that requires employees to operate within the guidelines of local laws. The company has denied any involvement of Yahoo! Hong Kong in Shi’s case.
The suit was originally filed April 18, 2007 by the Washington D.C.-based World Organization for Human Rights U.S.A. on behalf of Wang and Yu. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under several statutes, including 28 U.S.C. section 1350, the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which allows non-U.S. citizens to file civil suits in U.S. district courts for “violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States;” 28 U.S.C. section 1350, the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991; and 18 U.S.C. section 2701 et seq., the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The suit asks for relief in the form of compensatory, punitive and exemplary damages, “affirmative action” by Yahoo! in attempting to secure the release of the imprisoned plaintiffs, and “injunctive relief to prevent similar actions to be taken in the future.”
Morton Sklar, Executive Director of the World Organization for Human Rights U.S.A. who filed the suit on the plaintiffs’ behalf, told Inside US-China Trade that the addition of Shi to the suit may delay or postpone the case’s progress, including a procedural hearing set for August 7.
Shi was recently awarded the “Golden Pen of Freedom,” an annual press freedom prize from the World Association of Newspapers. Shi’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, accepted the award on her son’s behalf on June 4, 2007, at the opening ceremonies of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, according to an event press release.
On accepting the award, his Shi’s mother said “he has only done what a courageous journalist should do.”
– Patrick File, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor