Scotland: 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.

As Scottish companies continue to forge links with China, Amnesty urges them to continue to defend human rights, to publicly state their principled opposition to implementing requests which flout human rights standards, and to call for the release of “cyber-dissidents”.

Amnesty International’s Programme Director, Rosemary Burnett 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.”

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’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:

The mission statement of Yahoo! Is ‘winning with integrity’ and yet they were involved in the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao. 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 and he will be the featured prisoner of conscience for Amnesty International Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival events (1).

Microsoft’s Chief Executive Bill Gates has said in the past:
”Let’s not undermine the world-wide trend toward free expression by setting a bad example when it comes to free speech on a computer network”.

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.

“Don’t be evil” has been the cornerstone of Google’s values and yet the company has launched a censored version of its international search engine in China. In January 2006 Google.cn, a self-censoring Chinese search engine, was launched. The non-censored Google.com is still available to Chinese internet users, but searches need to pass through China’s ‘firewall’, which censors a great deal and slows down the search process.

ENDS

(1) Find out more information on Amnesty International’s Edinburgh Festival events here: www.amnesty.org.uk/edinburghfestivals The Amnesty at the Festivals Press Launch will be on Wednesday 2 August, 11.30am at the Speigeltent, George Square Garden, Edinburgh. Photo call to follow.

Campaign information
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.

Amnesty’s campaign against internet repression is not confined to China. Filtering technology also exists in Iran, Tunisia and Vietnam.

View latest press releases