Li verdict shows Yahoo played key role, group says

Yahoo Inc. played an important role in the Chinese government’s prosecution of Li Zhi, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday, citing a copy of the court’s verdict to back up its claims.

Li, a former government official, was jailed for eight years in 2003 on charges that stemmed largely from his involvement with the China Democratic Party, a banned political group.

Last month, Reporters Without Borders highlighted the role of a Yahoo subsidiary, Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd., in Li’s case, citing an appeals document prepared by Li’s lawyers. According to that document, Yahoo Hong Kong provided Chinese police with information that tied Li to a Yahoo e-mail account as well as messages from that account.

At the time, some observers questioned the group’s motives. Roland Soong, a prominent blogger and translator who is the author of the EastSouthWestNorth blog in Hong Kong, said Yahoo’s role appeared to have been overblown, based on the information in the appeals document.

However, the latest statement from Reporters Without Borders, which included a copy of the verdict, appears to back its earlier claim that evidence provided by Yahoo played an important role in the case.

According to the verdict, Yahoo and a Chinese Internet company, Sina Corp., supplied information to police that confirmed Li had set up an e-mail account using their services, Reporters Without Borders said. The IP (Internet Protocol) addresses used to register those accounts led police to Li’s address and telephone number, the group said.

Yahoo executives could not immediately be reached to comment on the latest development. A Yahoo spokeswoman last month said the company was not familiar with the details of Li’s case.

It is not the only time that Yahoo has provided information that has led to the arrest and imprisonment of one of its Chinese users. Last year, Yahoo was widely criticized in the U.S. for handing information to Chinese police that was used to jail a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, for 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets.

Yahoo no longer operates directly in China. Last year it acquired a stake in Chinese e-commerce provider Alibaba.com Corp., which now runs Yahoo’s operations in China.

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