Chinese journalist serving a 10-year prison sentence for e-mailing a Communist Party document about the Tiananmen Square massacre to a pro-democracy group in the United States has joined a lawsuit against Yahoo for turning over his account information to the Chinese government, leading to his arrest.
Shi Tao, who today received the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award, joined a suit filed against Yahoo in San Francisco in April by Yu Ling on behalf of herself and her husband, Wang Xiaoning. Wang, a democracy advocate who used Yahoo services to distribute his writings, was arrested and convicted after Yahoo ratted him out to the Chinese government. Wang is also serving a 10-year prison term.
In 2004, Shi was working for the Contemporary Business News in Hunan when he e-mailed a government document urging news media not to write about the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen Square to the New York-based Democracy Forum.
A full explanation from Morton Sklar, the lawyer Yu Ling (at left) contracted from the World Organization for Human Rights is on Boing Boing. Here’s an excerpt:
“The lawsuit seeks an end to the practice of divulging internet user information when major human rights abuses would result. The suit also seeks to effect serious efforts by Yahoo! to obtain the release of those who it helped to put in jail, and a court finding that Yahoo! is liable for contributing to torture and other major human rights abuses. At least four known individuals have been prosecuted and placed in jail in China as a direct result of Yahoo!’s actions, though it is suspected that many more have been similarly affected.”
In their complaint, Yu, Wang and Shi state that they have identified “at least 60” other imprisoned cyber dissidents who campaigned online for democracy, free elections and human rights and whose identities were later handed over by Yahoo to the Chinese government.
One of the more harrowing portions the complaint describes the particulars about Shi’s arrest and imprisonment. After Yahoo’s Hong Kong subsidiary turned over user information about Shi’s anonymous e-mail account, along with the physical address of his computer and the office where the electronic communication took place, here’s what happened:
“On November 23, 2004, Shi Tao was detained mid-day in a street near his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. As he was walking on the street, several people suddenly accosted and kidnapped him, placed a hood over his head and transported him thousands of miles away to Changsha, Hunan Province….
Up to and during his trial, Shi Tao was held at Chagsha Detention Center, where officials are known to physically abuse and torture detainees on a regular basis. Survivors of the prison describe being handcuffed and shackled for weeks at a time and chained to a door plank….
Shi Tao shares a cell with more than ten other inmates. His health and mental state have deteriorated sharply in the prison. He suffers from an ulcer and a heart ailment, as well as skin lesions induced by the prison’s damp conditions….Chishan Prison uses a severe system of forced labor, in which prisoners work in dark, dust-filled factories, starting before dawn and working for sixteen hours or more, in conditions intended to destroy their physical and mental capacities. Shi Tao has served as a forced laborer in these workshops. Detainees in this prison rarely see daylight. Former prisoners have reported that inmates are denied sleep and forced to labor for long hours under bright lights, which harm their vision and in some cases cause blindness and other disabilities.” Wired