Yahoo to respond to lawsuit over jailed Chinese 'net dissidents

Here's a snip from a statement just released by World Organization for Human Rights USA, the group representing Chinese internet dissidents Shi Tao, Wang Xiaoning, and Wang's wife, Yu Ling (Wang and Yu are shown above), in their lawsuit against Yahoo:

On Monday, August 27th, Yahoo!, Inc. will make its first formal response to the lawsuit filed against it by imprisoned Chinese journalist Shi Tao, pro-democracy advocate Wang Xiaoning, and other internet users. The political prisoners accuse Yahoo! of wrongfully providing their internet user information to the Chinese government, leading directly to their arbitrary arrest, long-term detention, and abuse and torture. This will be Yahoo!'s first statement to the court on the substantive issues raised by the case since the lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in April 2007.

The World Organization for Human Rights USA represents Shi Tao, Wang Xiaoning, and Wang's wife, Yu Ling, in their lawsuit. Based on statements made by Yahoo! in preliminary procedural motions, HRUSA anticipates that Yahoo!'s answer to the complaint will take the form of a motion to dismiss the suit, based on the claims that Yahoo! had no choice but to disclose the information requested by police in order to continue the company's operations in China, that the court has no jurisdiction over Yahoo!'s affiliates in China, that U.S. corporations abroad cannot be held responsible for torture abuses of a foreign host government, and that the court should not deal with issues that affect U.S. foreign policy because that would intrude upon Executive branch prerogatives. In prior submissions to the court, Morton Sklar, Executive Director of Human Rights USA, has pointed out that "Yahoo! must abide not only by the laws of its host country, but by U.S. law and international human rights standards."

Yahoo! acknowledged that it provided Chinese officials with identifying information of its Yahoo! service users that made these arbitrary arrests and long-term imprisonments possible, but the company claims that it had to provide the information in compliance with Chinese law. Sklar noted that "the language of China's requests to Yahoo! make it clear that these individuals were being targeted for their exercise of free speech and free press rights, and not for any legitimate law enforcement reasons." During Congressional hearings held in February 2006, Yahoo! also defended its actions by claiming that it was not aware of the purpose for which the information was requested. Recent information has surfaced, however, indicating that Yahoo! was, in fact, aware of the repressive purposes of the requests. On August 3, Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced that Congress would investigate Yahoo!'s conflicting statements to determine whether the internet company lied under oath about what it knew during last year's Congressional hearings.

Several preliminary procedural motions led up to Monday's filing. One of these motions was an effort by Yahoo! to divide the case into multiple parts, which would have caused significant delays in reaching the merits of the case. The court denied Yahoo!'s motion, but did agree to seek the U.S. State Department's views on potential foreign policy impacts of the case. Yahoo! also asked the court to grant a protective order of evidence to allow Yahoo! to keep major portions of its submissions secret.

This lawsuit, and the Congressional investigation, come at a time when China is trying to improve its image in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This may well provide a basis for seeking release of the plaintiffs from prison, to head off international criticism that China's promises to improve its human rights practices in anticipation of the Olympics were not being met.

Previously on BoingBoing:

  • Yahoo and jailed journalists in China: more documents emerge
  • China: Blog providers sign "self-discipline" act to nix anonymous blogging
  • Did Yahoo lie in case of jailed Chinese blogger Shi Tao?
  • Jailed Chinese journo Shi Tao joins lawsuit against Yahoo
  • China: government's new campaign to "cleanse" the internet
  • Yahoo aided China in torture, says dissident in lawsuit papers
  • China dissident's wife: "Yahoo betrayed my husband."
  • Jailed Chinese dissident's wife to sue Yahoo for ratting out her husband
  • Yahoo rats out Chinese reporter to Beijing, writer gets 10 years in jail
  • China: gov to expand "Great 'Net Firewall," censor web even more
  • Report: Yahoo helped jail another Chinese 'net dissident, Li Zhi
  • Journalism school won't return Yahoo's controversial $1M grant
  • Report: Yahoo implicated in 3rd China dissident case
  • Yahoo could stay in China and stop sending its users to jail
  • Harsh words for US tech firms from House at China 'net hearings
  • Report: verdict confirms Yahoo helped jail China dissident #2
  • Xeni's LAT op-ed: war, blogs, news, and profit.
  • Amnesty Int'l. confronts Yahoo over jailed Chinese reporter
  • NPR "Xeni Tech": Yahoo may have aided in jailing of second China writer
  • Tech firms blasted over China policies on Capitol Hill
  • HK lawmaker: Yahoo unit had role in Shi Tao's jailing
  • Chinese activist to Jerry Yang: You are helping to maintain an evil system