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A Chinese dissident was sentenced to 10 years in prison after distributing electronic writings through Yahoo, the fourth time the Internet company has been implicated in the jailing of a government critic, a human rights group said.
Although Wang Xiaoning was sentenced more than two years ago, the case only recently came to light, Human Rights in China reported this week. Wang, born in 1951,was detained Sept. 1, 2002, on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power." He was sentenced a year later to 10 years in prison.
The charges against Wang stemmed from electronic journals he emailed from 2000 to 2002 through Yahoo Groups, said HRC, which obtained a copy of the judgment against Wang. The journals, called Democratic Reform Free Forum and Current Political Commentary, included articles written by Wang and others who advocated democratic reform and a multi-party system.
He also was accused of communicating by email with Liu Guokai, leader of the China Social Democratic Party, which operates outside the communist nation. The Chinese government considers the group a "hostile organization," HRC said.
Included in the evidence cited in the judgment was information provided by Yahoo Holdings Ltd. that said Wang's "aaabbbccc" Yahoo Group was set up using the mainland China-based email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Yahoo Holdings, which was based in Hong Kong, also confirmed that the email address email@example.com, which Wang used to send messages to the group, was a mainland China-based account.
The judgment does not indicate whether Yahoo Holdings or Yahoo China, which is now operated by China-based online marketplace Alibaba.com, provided specific information regarding Wang's identity. Yahoo owns a large stake in Alibaba.com, but not a controlling interest.
Yahoo Group administrators who noticed the political content in Wang's writings stopped distributing them in 2001, the judgment said, according to HRC. Wang then started sending his journal to individual email addresses.
Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Yahoo in the United States, said Friday the Sunnyvale, Calif., company was unaware of the case.
"We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression, whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world," Osako said in an email. "While we absolutely believe companies have a responsibility to identify appropriate practices in each market in which they do business, we also think there is a vital role for government-to-government discussion of the larger issues involved."
Earlier this month, Reporters Without Borders, an international group dedicated to freedom of the press, linked Yahoo Holdings to the arrest and jailing of Chinese activist Jiang Lijun, who was charged with advocating democracy in China and with planning to establish his own political party.
U.S. Internet companies operating in China, the world's second largest market, have said they have to follow Chinese law, no matter how distasteful to Western countries, in order to do business under the communist government. Google Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Yahoo, for example, censor their Chinese-language search results at the request of Beijing.
In sticking with their we-have-no-choice defense, Internet companies have called on the U.S. government to pressure Chinese officials to loosen their restrictions on speech.