A French media watchdog group said information provided by Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc helped Chinese authorities convict and jail a writer who had penned an e-mail about media restrictions.
The criticism from Reporters Without Borders marks the latest instance in which a prominent high-tech company has faced accusations of cooperating with Chinese authorities to gain favor in a country that's expected to become an Internet gold mine.
Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo and two of its biggest rivals, Google Inc and Microsoft Corp's MSN, previously have come under attack for censoring online news sites and Web logs, or blogs, featuring content that China's communist government wants to suppress.
Reporters Without Borders ridiculed Yahoo, saying it was becoming even cozier with the Chinese government by allowing itself to become a police informant in a case that led to the recent conviction of Chinese journalist Shi Tao (
"Does the fact that this corporation operates under Chinese law free it from all ethical considerations?" Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "How far will it go to please Beijing?"
The group said court papers showed that Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd gave Chinese investigators information that helped them trace a personal Yahoo e-mail allegedly containing state secrets to Shi's computer. Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd is part of Yahoo's global network.
Pauline Wong, head of marketing for the Hong Kong office, said yesterday that the company had no comment on the statement.
"We're still looking at it," Wong said.
Shi, a former journalist for the financial publication Contemporary Business News, was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for illegally providing state secrets to foreigners. Reporters Without Borders described Shi as a "good journalist who has paid dearly for trying to get the news out."
His conviction stemmed from an e-mail he sent containing his notes on a government circular that spelled out restrictions on the media.
"This probably would not have been possible without the cooperation of Yahoo," said Lucie Morillon, a Washington-based spokeswoman for Reporters Without Borders.
Shi's arrest in November at his home in Shanxi Province prompted appeals for his release by activists, including the international writers group PEN.
A number of Chinese journalists have faced similar charges of violating vague security laws as communist leaders struggle to maintain control of information in the burgeoning Internet era.
Yahoo and its major rivals have been expanding their presence in China in hopes of reaching more of the country's population as the Internet becomes more ingrained in their daily lives.
Just last month, Yahoo paid US$1 billion for a 40 percent stake in China's biggest online commerce firm, Alibaba.com.
Meanwhile, Google and Microsoft are locked in a bitter legal battle over a former Microsoft engineer who Google hired in July to oversee the opening of a research center in China.