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Yahoo faces scrutiny in China case

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington and Richard Waters in San Francisco
Updated: 2:42 a.m. ET Aug. 8, 2007

A US congressional committee is investigating whether Yahoo intentionally misled Congress over its role in exposing the identity of a Chinese journalist who was sent to prison for a decade.

The House foreign affairs committee announced the probe last week after new documents showed possible discrepancies in Yahoo's 2006 testimony at a congressional hearing about its co-operation with Chinese authorities in the case against Shi Tao. The Chinese reporter and editor was arrested after posting material on a website about a government crackdown on media and democracy.

Michael Callahan, Yahoo senior vice-president and general counsel, said last year that the company had "no information" about the nature of an investigation by Chinese authorities when it divulged identifying information about the activist.

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But the Dui Hua Foundation, a California-based human rights group, released documents that disputed Mr Callahan's version of events. The translated documents showed that the official request to Yahoo from the Beijing State Security Bureau sought information into a case of suspected "illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities". Such a charge is frequently invoked against political dissidents in China.

Joshua Rosenzweig, the foundation's manager of research, said the wording of the request "should have raised a red flag" at Yahoo.

A Yahoo spokesman said the description of the investigation was too vague to give the internet company any clue about its real nature, and that the disclosure of the document therefore supported Mr Callahan's statement before the House committee last year.

"There are very legitimate law enforcement cases that can use that wording, including terrorism," the Yahoo spokesman said.

Tom Lantos, who chairs the foreign affairs committee and has compared technology companies that divulge information about its users to Nazi collaborators, said Yahoo had "a lot of secrecy to answer for".

"Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offence," he said.

In the 18 months since the committee hearing, three other instances have come to light in which Yahoo handed over information about suspected dissidents to Chinese authorities, all three of which pre-dated the Shi Tao case. The Dui Hua Foundation last week published a document showing Yahoo had handed over information about a user in 2002 over an investigation into "suspected inciting of subversion". The user, Wang Xiaoning, was later sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

The Wang case had only come to light in recent months and the company did not know about the outcome of that investigation when the House committee held its hearing, the Yahoo spokesman said. He added that the company was "anxious" to share the facts of the situation with Mr Lantos.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.
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