Executives of the internet company Yahoo! faced harsh criticism in the U.S. House of Representatives for cooperating with the Chinese government's suppression of political dissent and pro-democracy activists.
In a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, legislators and corporate executives discussed the case of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was arrested by Chinese police after Yahoo! turned over personally identifying information on him. Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "divulging state secrets abroad." The "state secret" China accused Shi Tao of violating was the journalist's distribution of a directive calling for censorship of news on the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Representative Chris Smith(R-NJ) lambasted the company's assistance with Tao's arrest. “Everyone involved with China knows that when democracy and human rights activists, religious believers, and members of persecuted nationalities are arrested it is often for “violating state secrets.” It is the modus operandi of dictatorship. In effect, this charge means nothing more than that they told the truth about some misdeed of the Chinese government,” Smith said during the hearing.
The hearing focused upon the testimony of Yahoo! Senior Vice President and General Counsel Michael Callahan, who in a 2006 hearing had provided incomplete information about his employer's involvement in the arrest of Tao and other pro-democracy activists. Callahan initially testified his company had no information about the nature of the Chinese government's investigation into Tao.
The Dui Hua Foundation, a leading human rights organization in China, later provided evidence that Yahoo! had been informed that the investigation sought evidence from the internet company of Tao's “illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities.”
When pressed by Representative Smith to settle in court with the arrested activists' families, Callahan responded “We absolutely will consider that.”
Rep. Smith is co-sponsoring a bill called the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007, which seeks to prohibit U.S. internet companies from cooperating with repressive regimes' suppression of pro-democracy dissent.