Democracy scored a huge victory earlier this month, one that the media has largely overlooked. Yahoo Inc., the Internet company made famous by their search engine, settled out of court with two Chinese journalists who sued the company under U.S. human rights laws for providing the Chinese government with identifying information about their Internet use.
One of the journalists, Wang Xiaoning, is an editor of several publications that advocate for democracy in China and was arrested in 2002 after police raided his home. Charged with government subversion, Xiaoning was sentenced to jail. Advocacy groups that received word of the arrest thought it bizarre that Xiaoning was found so quickly by the Chinese police, though he had anonymously sent his pro-democracy writings. According to the lawsuit, Yahoo gave Xiaoning’s e-mail records to local authorities.
Shi Tao’s case is equally bothersome. A poet and journalist, Tao was detained in 2004 after he sent an e-mail that exposed increased censorship around the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests to Democracy Forum, a joint venture of the National Endowment for Democracy and the Foreign Policy Association that brings together scholars, activists, and policy makers to promote democratic efforts worldwide. Yahoo also released the information that led to his arrest.
Today, both men are serving 10-year sentences in Chinese prisons.
At first glance, it might seem easy to sympathize with Yahoo. If the Chinese government subpoenas information from a business operation in China, one might think that the company is obligated to comply—and that was exactly Yahoo’s argument. They claimed their local affiliate was simply following orders from local law enforcement.
What they didn’t know was that a U.S. law has been in place for over 200 years that lays the groundwork for punishing corporations for human rights violations abroad. They also failed to realize the wrath they would invite upon themselves from the U.S Congress, including both Democrats and Republicans, such as Chris Smith, Dana Rohrbacher, and Tom Lantos.
Human Rights USA (www.humanrightsusa.org), an organization of attorneys committed to combating torture and related discrimination in America and by American companies worldwide, represented the two journalists and, in doing so, gave a voice to the men imprisoned for rejecting China’s one-party, communist government. (Full disclosure: My brother, Rick, is a board member of Human Rights USA.)
Doug Wilson is the the co-author, with Edwin Feulner, of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.
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