A U.S. congressional committee plans to investigate whether or not Yahoo Inc. lied during testimony over its role in a human rights case in China that sent journalist Shi Tao to jail for 10 years.
The chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee announced the probe on Friday in a statement posted on the committee’s Web site, and vowed to hold the company accountable.
“Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense,” a quote attributed to Representative Tom Lantos of California said.
Lantos alleges that Yahoo may have misrepresented itself during a February 2006 subcommittee hearing on the limits of Internet freedom in China.
A Yahoo representative, general counsel Michael Callahan, allegedly told the committee that Yahoo handed over information to Chinese police as required by law and that the company had no information about the nature of the investigation against Shi, the statement said.
Contrary to this testimony, Lantos alleges that some evidence has surfaced that Yahoo was told specifically that Shi was being targeted for illegally divulging state secrets to foreign entities.
Chinese authorities convicted Shi, formerly an editorial department head at the Contemporary Business News in China’s Hunan Province, in part due to an April 2004 e-mail Yahoo handed over to investigators, which contained a government warning for commissars to be on guard for dissident activity ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Shi received a 10-year jail sentence, but has appealed the verdict to the Hunan Higher People’s court, arguing that he was unaware that the information was classified. He is also suing Yahoo and its Hong Kong subsidiary in U.S. federal court for damages.
Yahoo has denied the involvement of its Hong Kong subsidiary, saying instead that its China unit was forced to hand over the emails in compliance with local laws.
Shi isn’t the only one suing Yahoo for handing personal information to Chinese authorities.
The wife of an imprisoned Chinese dissident filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland earlier this year, claiming that information provided by Yahoo led to the arrest and torture of her husband, Wang Xiaoning.
In addition, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have both criticized Yahoo over the Shi Tao incident, and a group of U.S. lawmakers blasted a group of Internet companies last year, including Yahoo, Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc., for failing to uphold free expression in China.