Yahoo wants judge to toss out China torture case

Juan Carlos Perez
PC World
Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 8:19 AM

Yahoo Inc. wants a California court to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the company by jailed Chinese dissidents.

In a filing Monday, Yahoo told the court that the lawsuit, which seeks to hold Yahoo accountable for the imprisonment and torture of the plaintiffs, should be tossed out various reasons, among which being that the U.S. justice system is the wrong venue for the case.

"This is a lawsuit by citizens of China imprisoned for using the internet in China to express political views in violation of China law. It is a political case challenging the laws and actions of the Chinese government. It has no place in the American courts," the 51-page filing reads.

After stating that Yahoo "deeply sympathizes with the plaintiffs and their families and does not condone the suppression of their rights and liberty by their government," the company states that it and its Chinese subsidiaries must comply with the laws of China.

"Yahoo has no control over the sovereign government of the People's Republic of China, the laws it passes, and the manner in which it enforces its laws," reads the filing.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the California Northern District in April, alleges that Yahoo and Yahoo Hong Kong Ltd. violated a series of U.S. and international laws by providing information to the Chinese government that led to the plaintiffs' arrest and torture.

Yahoo's arguments for dismissal are flawed, said attorney Morton Sklar, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based World Organization for Human Rights USA, which represents the plaintiffs, including imprisoned journalists Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning.

Yahoo is trying to blame China's government and arguing that Yahoo can't be held responsible for what has happened, Sklar said. "It was Yahoo that put the torture device in the hands of the government of China by giving the Internet identification information to the Chinese officials," Sklar said. "If they hadn't done that, there couldn't have been any torture abuses."

While it's true that any U.S. corporation doing business in a foreign country has to comply with that country's laws, the corporation also has to comply with U.S. laws and international legal standards, Sklar said. "That's what Yahoo overlooked," he said.

This case is but one of a series of human rights and free speech controversies in which U.S. Internet companies like Yahoo, Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. find themselves in regarding their operations in China.

In addition to human rights groups and press watchdog organizations, these Internet companies have been criticized by U.S. lawmakers, by some of their own investors and by individuals.

While Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and others in their position argue they need to comply with local laws, they also say that real progress on Internet issues of privacy, censorship and human rights require government-to-government agreements, supported by collaboration with industry players and human-rights organizations and leading to global standards of operation.

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