Information helped jail information, rights organization claims

BEIJING, China (AP) -- Internet firm Yahoo Inc. provided Chinese authorities with information used to jail one of its users for eight years, an activist group said Thursday -- the second time Yahoo was accused of helping jail a Chinese user.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said Yahoo's Hong Kong unit provided information about Li Zhi, a man from southwestern China who was sentenced to prison in 2003 for subversion after posting comments online criticizing official corruption.

Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo, said the company didn't know of the case and couldn't comment on whether the group's account was accurate.

However, Osako said that Yahoo Hong Kong would not have had access to Li's Chinese account -- and that it never releases information to the Chinese government.

She said the company was investigating whether Yahoo China, run by a partner company, released the data.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations has scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing on ethical responsibilities of companies doing business in China.

Activists criticized Yahoo last year after it was disclosed that the company provided information that Chinese authorities used to convict and jail reporter Shi Tao for revealing state secrets.

"Now we know Yahoo works regularly and efficiently with the Chinese police," a Reporters Without Borders statement said.

It urged Internet companies to use U.S.-based servers in "repressive countries" so governments must comply with American law when getting information on users.

Osako said that when the company receives government subpoenas, it isn't usually told how information will be used. Only legally required information is turned over, she said.

"The choice in China and other countries is not whether to comply with law enforcement demands for information," Osako said. "Rather, the choice is whether to remain in the country."

Yahoo was "distressed" when it learned of the facts surrounding the Shi Tao case, she said.

In that case, Chinese authorities demanded information from Yahoo's China unit, which complied with Chinese law, Osako said.

She said earlier accounts that said the information was supplied to Chinese authorities by Yahoo's Hong Kong arm were incorrect.

Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. also have been criticized for enforcing Chinese censorship guidelines.

Google's China-based service limits online searches for sensitive topics, and Microsoft shut down a Chinese user's Web log upon officials' demand.

Yahoo formed a partnership in October with China's, which runs Yahoo's mainland China operations.

An Alibaba spokesman, Porter Erisman, said Thursday the company had no information about the 2003 case because it occurred before the partnership.

Its chief executive, Jack Ma, said earlier his company would cooperate with authorities seeking information on "politically sensitive information" sent by a Yahoo e-mail customer.