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Imprisoned Chinese dissident sues Yahoo

By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service

April 18, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - An imprisoned Chinese dissident and his wife sued Yahoo! Inc. in federal court in San Francisco today for releasing e-mail information that allegedly led to the husband's arrest and torture.

Wang Xiaoning, 57, and Yu Ling, 55, of Beijing, charge that Wang was arrested in 2002 after a subsidiary of Sunnyvale-based Yahoo gave Chinese police information linking him to e mails he used to publish articles calling for democratic reforms.

Wang was convicted in 2003 of incitement to subvert state power and sentenced to 10 years in a forced labor prison, the lawsuit says.

The suit claims he was tortured and beaten in an effort to make him confess to "anti-state" activities while he was held in the Beijing State Security Bureau Detention Center from September 2002 until May 2004.

Wang is now in a different Beijing prison and continues to suffer "severe physical, psychological and emotional abuse" and is denied recreation and adequate food, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit was filed by attorneys from the New York-based World Organization for Human Rights USA on behalf of Wang, Yu and other unnamed plaintiffs who are or were detained as a result of Yahoo's actions. The other plaintiffs will be identified later, the suit says.

The lawsuit claims Yahoo's actions violate the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act, Alien Tort Claims Act and Electronic Communications Privacy Act as well as international human rights law and California laws.

It seeks financial compensation, punitive damages and a requirement that Yahoo and its subsidiaries take action to secure the dissidents' release.

Yu, in San Francisco today for the filing of the lawsuit, said through a translator that "Yahoo betrayed my husband, disclosed his personal information and disclosed his privacy.

"Yahoo's actions of providing this information caused my husband to be sentenced," Yu alleged.

She said she hopes the case will help to "change the environment in China to allow people to freely express their opinions, so that no one will be punished just for expressing opinions."

Yu said she is allowed to visit her husband for half an hour per month and feels "pain in her heart" at his suffering but tries to hide her distress in an effort to keep up his spirits.

The lawsuit alleges she has "suffered extreme emotional distress and financial hardship" because of her husband's imprisonment and alleged torture.

Jim Cullinan, director of public affairs for Yahoo, said the company had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment specifically.

But Cullinan said, "Concerns raised about the Chinese government compelling companies to follow Chinese laws and disclose user information are not new issues.

"Companies doing business in China are required to comply with Chinese law or risk local employees being faced with civil and criminal penalties," the spokesman said.

Cullinan said, "Yahoo is distressed that citizens in China are imprisoned for expressing opinions on the Internet." He said the company urges the U.S. State Department to help secure their release.

Morton Sklar, a lawyer for Wang and Yu, said there is "clearcut" evidence of Yahoo's involvement in providing the information identifying Wang.

For that reason, he said, the case "is a very important forward step in terms of establishing corporate responsibility for human rights abuses."

Sklar, executive director of World Organization for Human Rights USA, called Yu "super courageous" for coming to the United States to prepare the lawsuit and for planning to return to China despite a possible risk to her own safety.

The case, assigned to U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, was filed in the federal court for Northern California because Yahoo is based in Sunnyvale, Sklar said.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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