Reporters Without Borders hails the early release of Shi Tao, a poet and journalist who was jailed on information provided by the US Internet company Yahoo. Shi was released 15 months ahead of schedule on 7 September.
The reason for his early release is not yet known but the South China Morning Post (南华早报) said his good conduct in prison had played a key role.
“We welcome this journalist’s release and we urge the authorities to now let him lead a normal life by sparing him the surveillance and intimidation to which many other dissidents have been subjected after their release from prison,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“We point out that the situation of news providers continues to be very disturbing and that many dissident journalists, including the 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, continue to be jailed because of their activities.
“As long as the Communist Party maintains its policies of repression and censorship, we will continue to denounce the Chinese and foreign companies that are complicit in its Internet surveillance. By helping the authorities to identify Shi as the source of a leak of sensitive information, Yahoo! Hong Kong helped to jail this journalist.”
It was Reporters Without Borders that discovered and revealed Yahoo!’s role on 6 September 2005. In November 2007, Reporters Without Borders helped Shi’s mother, Gao Qinshen, to travel to the United State to attend a congressional hearing at which Yahoo! was questioned about its role.
In its latest transparency report, Yahoo! said it had received 29,000 government requests for information about its users since the start of 2013. The company’s lawyer said Yahoo! took client confidentiality very seriously and that its legal department insisted that government requests were submitted legally and for lawful purposes.
Reporters Without Borders believes that it is extremely important that private sector companies should act in a morally and socially responsible way and should protect the confidentiality of news providers’ communications.
In a special report released on World Day Against Cyber-Censorship last March, Reporters Without Borders condemned the complicity of certain companies in the development of electronic surveillance networks by authoritarian regimes.
Shi was arrested in November 2004 after providing a Chinese dissident forum based outside the country with a copy of an email that the authorities had sent to national news media warning them not to refer to any commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
It was thanks to information provided by Yahoo! that the authorities were able to identify Shi as the culprit. When tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison in April 2005 on a charge of divulging state secrets, Shi admitted to forwarding the email but disputed that it constituted a state secret.
In its defence, Yahoo! said it had no choice but to comply with Chinese legislation and that the relevant operational decisions were taken by Alibaba, a Chinese company that had taken over management of Yahoo!’s services in China.
Yahoo! has abandoned most of its activities in China in recent months, first closing its email service and then its news portal. Nowadays, most Chinese citizens use email services provided by Chinese companies.
Shi was one of a total of four journalists and cyber-dissidents to be jailed as a result of information that Yahoo! provided to the Chinese authorities, and is the last to be released.
The others were Wang Xiaoning, released in August 2012 after ten years in prison; Li Zhi, released in 2011 after serving an eight-year jail term; and Jiang Lijun, released in 2006 after four years in detention.