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 user 2006-05-29 at 11:18:00 am Views: 52
  • #15576

    Amnesty Intl. Sees Red over Yahoo China
    The human rights group is calling for the Internet company to be
    more socially responsible in China, but others say the Web giant is doing a lot of good
    International is turning up the pressure on Yahoo! (YHOO ) to change
    directions in China. Amnesty International USA, the American branch of
    the international human rights group, is sending an official to Yahoo’s
    annual shareholder meeting on May 25 at the Santa Clara Convention
    Center in Silicon Valley. Anthony Cruz, the San Francisco-based Amnesty
    official who plans to speak at the meeting, intends to use the meeting
    as a platform to demand action from Yahoo executives. “We’re calling on
    them to take a stand against China,” says Cruz.The human rights group
    has purchased shares in Yahoo “so we can have a say in the company’s
    human rights policy,” Cruz says. It’s not just Yahoo that is coming
    under scrutiny from the group. Earlier this month, Cruz showed up at
    Google’s (GOOG ) shareholder meeting thanks to Amnesty’s ownership of
    some of that Internet search company’s shares. Cruz says that at the
    Yahoo meeting he’ll call on the company to take action to win the
    release of political prisoners in China.This will be just the latest
    bout of unfavorable publicity that Yahoo executives have had to endure
    regarding Yahoo China. Over the past few months, the Internet outfit
    has been subjected to withering criticism from activists and lawmakers
    in the U.S. for censoring its Chinese Web site and cooperating with
    security officials in China investigating dissidents who used Yahoo’s
    e-mail service.

    For instance, during congressional hearings in February, Rep. Tom
    Lantos, a Democrat from California and survivor of the Holocaust,
    compared the behavior of Yahoo and others in China to that of companies
    cooperating with the Nazis under Hitler.Yahoo critics are particularly
    incensed by the case of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist now in prison
    thanks in part to evidence that Yahoo China supplied to police. Yahoo
    has long contended that its Chinese arm had no choice but to provide
    the information, since the company has to comply with local laws. Cruz
    says that the explanation isn’t satisfactory. “You should have some
    obligation to not immediately give out the information,” he says. “They
    gave it so quickly without even looking into it.”Yahoo no longer owns
    Yahoo China, having sold the company last year to Chinese e-commerce
    specialist Alibaba. However, Yahoo now owns 40% of Alibaba, making it
    the largest shareholder in the company. Yahoo has one seat on the
    Alibaba board, with Japanese Internet powerhouse Softbank (SFTBF )
    holding another, and Alibaba itself holding the remaining two.

    For its part, Alibaba says that critics like Amnesty’s Cruz don’t
    understand the good that Yahoo China is doing inside the country. “What
    should not be lost in the debate is the fact that the Internet and the
    Internet companies in China are having an overwhelmingly positive
    impact on the lives of ordinary Chinese,” says Porter Erisman, an
    Alibaba spokesman based in Hong Kong.Erisman points to the way the
    Chinese use Yahoo China to get information, learn about the rest of the
    world, and communicate with people outside China. “If [Yahoo's critics]
    see what is really happening on the ground in China and the amount of
    openness and social liberties being created by the Internet, they would
    realize that pursuing profits and helping China become more open are
    not mutually exclusive,” he says. “What we see on the ground every day
    is that China is changing very quickly.”

    While Alibaba encourages people to focus on the big picture, Amnesty
    wants the spotlight on the human rights cases. Cruz says that he’s
    going to call on Yahoo to demand the release of journalist Shi as well
    as Li Zhi, jailed for eight years in 2003 after posting comments online
    that criticized government corruption. Cruz knows that the chances of
    Yahoo doing what Amnesty wants are quite slim.But he says that’s not
    the point. “It’s important to continue to put pressure on companies and
    make shareholders aware that this is happening,” he says. “That’s the
    important thing, to get exposure on the issue.”China’s Internet market
    is already the world’s second largest, and it’s only going to get
    larger in the years ahead. At the same time, calls from activists like
    Cruz in the West are probably going to get louder. For Yahoo, this is
    one headache that’s not going away.