A Chinese political prisoner sued Yahoo! in a US federal court, accusing the internet company of helping the Chinese government torture him by providing information that led to his arrest.
The suit, filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act, is believed to be the first of its kind made against an American internet company.
Wang Xiaoning, who is serving a 10-year sentence in China, and his wife, Yu Ling, who is currently in San Francisco, are seeking damages and an injunction barring Yahoo! from identifying political opponents to the Chinese authorities.
Mr Wang was arrested after distributing online articles calling for democratic reform and a multiparty system in China via Yahoo! sites in 2000 and 2001. His suit contends that Yahoo!’s Hong Kong office provided police in China with information that linked him to the postings. Mr Wang was arrested in September 2002 and says he was beaten while in detention.
A Yahoo! spokesman said the company “is distressed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views on the internet”, but said it had not had time to review Mr Wang’s lawsuit.
It added: “However, the concerns raised about the Chinese government compelling companies to follow Chinese law and disclose user information are not new. Companies doing business in China must comply with Chinese law or its local employees could be faced with civil and criminal penalties.”
Lawyers said the lawsuit will encounter a number of hurdles – including the fact that Yahoo! has always complied with Chinese laws.
However, it comes as internet groups see increased activism from investor groups over online-related human rights issues.
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