China: Amnesty accuses Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google of hypocrisy in China and urges users to take action against them

Amnesty International today (20 July) urged users of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to use their power as consumers to help end corporate complicity in suppression of the internet in China. The call to action – part of a new campaign for free speech online called irrepressible.info – came as Amnesty launched a new report accusing the firms of hypocrisy by talking about freedom of expression and access to information while denying it in order to access the lucrative Chinese market.

The report calls on the companies to come clean and reveal which words they have banned from blogs or filtered out of web searches in China, and make public all agreements with the Chinese authorities. Amnesty is also asking Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to publicly call for the release of “cyber-dissidents” jailed for expressing peaceful opinions online, and to stand up to the Chinese authorities by exhausting all legal appeals before complying with demands that run counter to human rights.

Amnesty is calling on UK users of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to email the companies directly and use their online feedback forms, to call for changes to the way they operate in China.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google have all facilitated or colluded in China’s censorship of the net. They claim they are obeying local laws when in fact they are succumbing to political pressure.

“The argument that the companies are ‘bringing the internet to China’ is spurious: the internet has been in China for ten years. These companies are simply trying to get a slice of a vast and growing market. And it’s at a great cost: their activities are aiding and abetting government censorship rather than challenging it.

“All businesses claim to ‘put the customer first’ – but these companies don’t seem to be listening to users in China. So we want them to hear from customers here in the UK. If enough people tell them that they’re not happy with their actions in China, we hope it will make them think again.”

Amnesty’s new report contrasts the public statements and of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google, and the company values that they espouse, with their actions in China:

Yahoo! via its Chinese partner company, Alibaba, has provided the authorities with private and confidential information about its users that has been used to convict and imprison two journalists – Shi Tao and Li Zhi -, both of whom have been adopted by Amnesty International as Prisoners of Conscience. The company has also voluntarily signed China’s “Public Pledge on Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry” – agreeing to censor and deny access to information.

Microsoft shut down the blog of New York Times researcher Zhao Jing on the basis of a government request. The company has also admitted that it responds to directions from the Chinese government in restricting users of MSN Spaces from using certain terms.

Google has launched a censored version of its international search engine in China.

Amnesty is calling on the companies to be transparent about their dealings with the Chinese authorities, revealing details of agreements and web filtering arrangements. It asks the companies to publicly state their principled opposition to implementing requests which flout human rights standards, and to call for the release of “cyber-dissidents”. And the organisation is also calling on companies to exhaust all judicial processes and appeals before complying with government requests with human rights implications, such as providing email account details.

Kate Allen said:

“There is a huge gulf between the companies stated values and their actions. Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google need to stop denying their culpability, acknowledge where their responsibilities lie, and begin to focus on solutions in China. “

Journalist Shi Tao sent an email to an overseas website in 2004 describing the Chinese government's instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Yahoo helped the Chinese authorities identify Shi through his email account. He is now serving a 10-year sentence in a Chinese jail. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate release.

Amnesty International’s new campaign website “http://irrepressible.info” enables people to oppose internet repression in countries all over the world by signing a simple pledge calling on all governments and companies to respect internet freedom. These will be presented to a UN meeting on the future of the internet in November 2006. So far over 23,000 people have signed the pledge and over 6,000 have taken action on behalf of imprisoned journalist Shi Tao.

Amnesty’s campaign against internet repression is not confined to China. Filtering technology also exists in countries like Iran, which recently announced that it would be able to monitor every citizen’s web use; and Amnesty is campaigning for imprisoned web users in Tunisia and Vietnam. The organisation recently highlighted the case of Sayed Ahmad Sayed Sigarchi, an Iranian blogger who was reportedly subjected to 30 lashes in Tabriz Prison in October last year while serving a four-month sentence. He was arrested in connection with a blog he had started in 2003, and convicted of "insulting the Leader and senior officials" and "propaganda against the system”.

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