BEIJING — China has released early from prison a prominent dissident and journalist who was jailed in 2005 for leaking state secrets abroad after Yahoo was accused of helping authorities identify him, a rights group said Saturday.
Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Yahoo defended itself at the time, saying it had to abide by local laws.
The group PEN International said late Saturday that Shi had been released 15 months before the end of his sentence.
“We welcome news of Shi Tao’s early release, at a time when there seem to be increasingly long shadows over freedom of expression in China,” the group’s Marian Botsford Fraser said in a statement.
“Shi Tao’s arrest and imprisonment, because of the actions of Yahoo China, signaled a decade ago the challenges to freedom of expression of Internet surveillance and privacy that we are now dealing with.”
A Chinese rights activist who is in contact with Shi confirmed he had been released just over a week ago. The activist, who asked not to be identified, said Shi was not accepting interviews.
It was not immediately clear why Shi had been let out early, although such releases can be granted in China for good behavior in jail.
Shi’s prosecution was based on an e-mail he sent to a New York-based Web site detailing media restrictions ahead of the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests around Tiananmen Square.
PEN said that Shi “was treated relatively well in prison during the last few years, and wrote many poems, including ‘Song of October’ written from prison after he learned that Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Liu was jailed in 2010 on subversion charges and Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown no sign of wanting to release him or end the Communist Party’s crackdown on dissidents and others who challenge the party’s authority.