Yahoo Feels Political Heat Over Chinese Dissident

18 October 2007

SUNNY VALE, California: Yahoo ceo Jerry Yang has been summoned to appear before a Congressional committee next month to explain the online search giant's part in the trial and imprisonment of a prominent Chinese dissident.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by senator Tom Lantos, claims they were misled by Yahoo svp/general counsel Michael Callaghan when he testified last year to the committee that the company had "no information about the nature" of a Chinese investigation when it handed over data about the email accounts of human rights activists.

As a result, journalist Shi Tao was arrested and sentenced to ten years jail in China.

Based on information since supplied by a human rights group, Lantos charges that Yahoo received written requests from Chinese police specifying they sought evidence about Shi in a case of "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities" - a charge often used in the pursuit of dissidents.

Said Lantos: "We want to clarify how that happened, and to hold the company to account for its actions both before and after its testimony proved untrue. And we want to examine what steps the company has taken since then to protect the privacy rights of its users in China."

Yahoo has rejected the accusation saying: "The committee's decision to single out Yahoo and accuse the company of making misstatements is grossly unfair and mischaracterizes the nature and intent of our past testimony."

The online giant and others who do business in China say it can be difficult to distinguish between legitimate law enforcement requests and cases of political persecution.

  • Meantime, Yahoo has reported a rise in third quarter revenues of 12% to $1.77 billion (€1.24bn; £870m). Despite which net profit fell 5% to $151.3 million, eroded by sales and marketing expenses.

    The figures cheered analysts and shareholders, who are more accustomed to news of a slump in the company's fortunes. Comments Jerry Yang: "We have a lot more work to do, but we are genuinely excited about where the company is headed."

    Data sourced from Financial Times Online and BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff