SHANGHAI, CHINA - A human rights group sued Yahoo this week, accusing the Internet giant of abetting the torture of pro-democracy writers by releasing data that allowed China's government to identify them.The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, says the company was complicit in the arrests of 57-year-old Wang Xiaoning and other Chinese Internet activists. The suit is the latest development in a campaign by advocacy groups to spotlight the conduct of U.S. companies in China.
The suit, in trying to hold Yahoo accountable, could become an important test case. Advocacy groups are seeking to use a 217-year-old U.S. law to punish corporations for human rights violations abroad, an effort the Bush administration has opposed.
In 2003, Wang began serving a 10-year sentence on charges that he incited subversion with online treatises criticizing the government. He is named as a plaintiff in the Yahoo suit, filed with help from the World Organization for Human Rights USA, based in Washington.
Yahoo is guilty of "an act of corporate irresponsibility," said Morton Sklar, executive director of the group. "Yahoo had reason to know that if they provided China with identification information that those individuals would be arrested."
The suit says that in 2001, Wang was using a Yahoo e-mail account to post anonymous writings. The suit alleges that Yahoo, under pressure from the Chinese government, blocked that account. Wang set up a new account via Yahoo; the suit alleges that Yahoo gave the government information that allowed it to identify and arrest Wang in September 2002.
Jim Cullinan, a spokesman for Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., said he could not comment on the suit or the specifics of Wang's case, but he said Yahoo condemns the suppression of speech.
Companies that do business in other countries have to follow the laws of that country or their employees could be subject to penalties, he said.
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