Yahoo's role in Li Zhi case overblown, critic says

Recent Western media coverage of a case involving Li Zhi, a jailed Chinese Internet user, exaggerated the role of a Yahoo Inc. subsidiary in the affair, according to a Hong Kong blogger and media researcher.

Li is currently in prison serving an eight-year sentence on charges that largely stem from his involvement with the China Democratic Party, a political group outlawed in China. A 2004 appeals document released by Li’s lawyers revealed that Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. in 2003 provided Chinese police with information that tied Li to a Yahoo e-mail account as well as messages from that account.

Roland Soong, a highly regarded translator and media researcher who is the author of the EastSouthWestNorth blog, did not dispute reports that Yahoo provided Chinese police with evidence used to build a case against Li. However, he said Yahoo’s role in the case has been overblown, and questioned why the case has attracted so much attention now, nearly two years after the statement was written by Li’s lawyers.

“With all due respect, I don’t think whoever is pushing this gives a damn about Li Zhi, the poor guy,” Soong said.

Soong also criticized Western media coverage of Li’s case, saying too much emphasis was placed on Yahoo’s role in the affair. Some Western media reports implied that Li was jailed on the basis of evidence provided by Yahoo, while the company is mentioned in just one paragraph of the appeals document, he said. The rest of the document is dedicated to a discussion of evidence gathered from other sources.

News of Yahoo’s involvement in Li’s case comes at a sensitive time for U.S. companies. In recent months, they have come under increasing scrutiny in the U.S. for their actions in China.

Yahoo has previously been criticized for providing evidence used to jail a Chinese journalist for 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets. Microsoft Corp. has taken heat for censoring the blog of another Chinese journalist and Google Inc. has taken flak for offering a censored version of its search engine in China.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, Africa and International Operations will hold hearings to investigate how U.S. Internet companies operate in China. Representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Cisco Systems Inc., and Reporters Without Borders, are expected to attend.

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