SUNNNY VALE, California: Senior Yahoo executives were this week publicly grilled at a US congressional hearing into the part played by the web giant in the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Chinese dissidents.

Ceo Jerry Yang (pictured) apologised to the distressed mother of journalist Shi Tao, who was jailed for ten years after Yahoo gave the Beijing authorities details of his email address and data about other cyber-activists.

Yang said to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: "I personally apologise to them for what they and their families are going through."

He was summoned to appear after committee chairman Tom Lantos accused Yahoo of giving false information to previous congressional hearings about the case.

In February 2006 the company assured a hearing it had "no information about the nature" of a police investigation into Mr Shi's activities before it gave the authorities the identifying data.

But it was later revealed that, at the time of the hearings, Yahoo had received written requests from the Chinese police specifying they sought evidence about Mr Shi in a case of "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities" - a charge often used in the pursuit of dissidents.

Yahoo evp/general counsel Michael Callahan was also in apologetic mode last week for failing to come forward with that information after he learned about it months later.

Lantos did not mince his words, describing the company as "spineless and irresponsible", adding: "It was inexcusable, negligent behaviour at best and deliberately deceptive at worst."

He thundered: "While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies."

Yang and Callahan defended Yahoo, saying doing business in China was complex. But Yang also insisted the company would work harder on human-rights issues.

He said: "I understand the moral call for myself personally as well as the company to do more, and we will try to do more."

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff