Yahoo learned that operating in China cuts both ways last month. The US internet firm made a bundle on its investment in Alibaba.com’s successful listing in Hong Kong but was also given a congressional grilling on human rights back home.
In mid-November, Yahoo settled with the families of two Chinese dissidents who were jailed after the company passed evidence to Beijing in the form of the men’s e-mail account details. Yahoo agreed to pay the legal fees of Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning, as well as pledged to provide “financial, humanitarian and legal support” to the families. No further details were given on the settlement.
Shi, a business journalist, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for leaking state secrets to foreigners. Wang, a democracy activist, is also seeing out a 10-year jail term, but for inciting subversion.
The hearing was held after a human rights group came forward with documents that suggested Yahoo executives new far more about the nature and potential consequences of Beijing’s investigation into Shi than they had admitted to at an earlier hearing in 2006.
This led to Congressman Tom Lantos memorably branding the company a “moral pygmy,” during the hearings, and calling on Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang to apologize to the jailed mens’ families. Yang’s apology followed a mea culpa from Executive Vice President Michael Callahan, who said he regretted remarks he made during the earlier hearing.
Now, Yang says Yahoo will create a Human Rights Fund to aid people who have been jailed for dissenting online.
“It was clear what we had to do to make this right for [the jailed men], for Yahoo and for the future,” he told the Wall Street Journal.