SANTA CLARA, California - May 25 - Today at Yahoo's (NYSE: YHOO) annual stockholder meeting, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), an activist shareholder of Yahoo's stock, will challenge the company to uphold human rights in its operations in China. AIUSA will call on the company to publicly demand the release of internet dissidents jailed in China for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression rights. Tens of thousands of AI members have already written to Yahoo's CEO, calling on the company to push for the release of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist now serving ten years in prison for sending politically sensitive information in an e-mail using a Yahoo account. Yahoo also provided information to the Chinese government that could have contributed to the conviction of Li Zhi, a civil servant who was jailed for eight years in 2003 after posting comments that criticized government corruption.
During Yahoo's stockholder meeting on May 25, Anthony Cruz, AIUSA's Corporate Action Network Coordinator for California, will address Yahoo's stockholders, asking management to go on the record calling for the release of Shi and Li. In addition, Cruz will raise concerns about the company's long-time willingness to operate behind the "Great Firewall" of China, agreeing to actively restrict users by blocking content on topics such as human rights, political reform, Tiananmen Square and Falun Gong, among others.
"Yahoo is partnering with one of the world's most repressive regimes to keep people from getting information and from writing freely in e-mails and on Web sites. Internet censorship threatens the very foundation on which the Internet was built. This doesn't seem like a good business model for a company that needs more free speech online to grow," said Cruz.
Leading U.S. internet companies, including Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOG), have made similar concessions to the Chinese to help with online censorship. Last week, Cruz addressed shareholders at the Google annual meeting, where co-founder Sergei Brin seemed to dodge questions about Google's conduct by pointing the finger at Yahoo for helping put Chinese netizens in jail.
Cruz added, "The bottom line is that none of these companies operating in China have figured out ways to ensure their customers get all the information and privacy online that they are entitled to. The leaders of these companies are supposed to be the smartest and most innovative thinkers in the world today. Is bowing to an abusive regime really the best they can do?"
Appearing at the annual shareholder meetings is just one component of a massive international effort led by Amnesty International, the world's largest grassroots human rights organization with more than 1.8 million members globally. Last week AIUSA launched a comprehensive web-based action at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/business/censorship.html , allowing concerned Internet users to send direct messages to U.S.-based technology giants, demanding they stop assisting foreign governments in their attempt to curtail freedom of speech on the Internet.
In Congressional testimony, in meetings with the companies and through their public actions, Amnesty International has made several recommendations to the companies for addressing these issues, including pressuring the Chinese government to release internet dissidents and change their repressive practices and adopting comprehensive human rights policies based on international standards.
Amnesty International supports the key provisions of the Global Online Freedom Act of 2006, introduced in March by Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.). The legislation aims to protect free and open communication online globally before repressive countries succeed in developing an entirely separate, heavily censored, widely surveilled, and restricted version of the Internet.