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Yahoo! lawsuit (re China)

Computer keyboard


C русской версией описания этого дела можно ознакомиться здесь.


In April 2007 Wang Xiaoning and Wang’s wife, Yu Ling, filed a lawsuit (in US federal court in California) against Yahoo! and its Chinese subsidiariesunder the Alien Tort Claims Act, Torture Victim Protection Act and California state law.  In June 2007 journalist Shi Tao and a number of unnamed plaintiffs joined the lawsuit.  Wang and Shi had each been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in China on respective charges of incitement to subvert state power and of illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.  Wang was found guilty on the basis of essays advocating democratic reform and multi-party democracy in China that he distributed via email and through Yahoo!  Shi was convicted on the basis of an email he sent from his Yahoo! account to an internet forum which contained his comments on a Chinese Government circular prepared in advance of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising outlining restrictions on the media.  


The plaintiffs accused Yahoo! of giving information about their online activities to Chinese law enforcement, which led to their detention.  The lawsuit alleges that by providing user identification information to the Chinese authorities, Yahoo! knowingly and willfully aided and abetted the commission of torture and other human rights abuses that caused the plaintiffs severe physical and mental pain and suffering.  The plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint alleged that Wang and Shi “have been and are being subjected to grave violations of some of the most universally recognized standards of international law, including prohibitions against torture…and forced labor, for exercising their rights of freedom of speech, association, and assembly, at the hands of [Yahoo!] through Chinese officials acting under color of law in the People’s Republic of China.” 


On 27 August 2007, Yahoo! moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that the case presents “nonjusticiable” questions (questions not appropriate for resolution by a US court) because the case involves “acts of state” and political questions, and because ruling on them would breach standards of international comity.  (More information on these three doctrines is available here.)  On 31 October 2007, the court granted in part plaintiffs’ motion for initial and jurisdictional discovery, delaying its decision on Yahoo!’s motion to dismiss until this discovery had been conducted.  On 13 November 2007, following the testimony of Yahoo!’s CEO before Congress, the parties agreed to a private settlement and issued a joint stipulation of dismissal in which Yahoo! agreed to bear the plaintiffs’ legal costs and establish a fund "to provide humanitarian and legal aid to dissidents who have been imprisoned for expressing their views online."  The exact terms of the settlement are confidential. 

In late February 2008 a new lawsuit was filed against Yahoo! by Chinese dissidents in US federal court in California based on allegations similar to those in the lawsuit which was settled in November 2007.

On 1 February 2012 a Yahoo! shareholder and a Chinese activist filed a lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court against Yahoo! seeking evidence from the company regarding the establishment and operation of the Yahoo! Human Rights Fund.  This Fund was to be established pursuant to the November 2007 settlement of the lawsuit described above.  The plaintiffs allege that the individual selected by Yahoo! to administer the Fund misappropriated Fund assets for his personal use.

- "Milberg LLP and Human Rights Activist File Suit Against Yahoo! Questioning Operation of the Yahoo! Human Rights Fund", Xenia Kobylarz, Milberg LLP, 6 Feb 2012
- "Yahoo sued again by Chinese dissidents", Dan Nystedt, Computerworld, 29 Feb 2008
- “Yahoo Settles With Chinese Families”, Catherine Rampell, Washington Post, 14 Nov 2007

- [FR] “Reporters sans frontiers soulagee par l’accord entre Yahoo! et les familles de Shi Tao et Wang Xiaoning”Reporters sans Frontières, 14 nov 2007

- “Yahoo apologizes for action on Chinese dissident journalist” AFX News, 4 Nov 2007

- “Yahoo plea over China rights case”, BBC News, 28 Aug 2007

- “Jailed Chinese Reporter Joins Yahoo Suit”, Dikky Sinn, Washington Post, 11 Jun 2007

- “Chinese Political Prisoner Sues in U.S. Court, Saying Yahoo Helped Identify Dissidents”, Miguel Helft, New York Times, 19 Apr 2007


- World Organization for Human Rights (plaintiffs’ counsel): Corporate Accountability (includes links to legal documents filed in US case)

- Human Rights in China: Case Highlight – Shi Tao and Yahoo

- Human Rights in China: Yahoo! Cited in Decision Sentencing Internet Dissident Wang Xiaoning to 10 Years, 27 Apr 2006

- [PDF] Xiaoning v. Yahoo - Second Amended Complaint, 30 Jul 2007

- Xiaoning v. Yahoo! Inc, et al. – Defendant Yahoo! Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, 27 Aug 2007

- Justia: Xiaoning et al v. Yahoo! Inc, et al [index, with links, of all legal filings in case]

- [PDF] Chinese Judgment Against Shi Tao, 27 Apr 2005 (Chinese language only)

- [PDF] Chinese Judgment Against Wang Xiaoning, 12 Sep 2003 (Chinese language only)

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13 November 2007

Yahoo settles with jailed Chinese dissidents

Author: John Letzing, MarketWatch [USA]

Yahoo Inc. on Tuesday settled a lawsuit filed against the Internet company by Chinese dissidents who accused it of complicity in their jailing... Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang said that Yahoo will now provide "financial, humanitarian and legal support" to the jailed dissidents' families... Separately, Yang said Yahoo is also now establishing a fund "to provide support to other political dissidents and their families."

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13 November 2007

Yahoo settles with jailed Chinese journalists

Author: Verne Kopytoff, San Francisco Chronicle

...Yahoo Inc. [has] settled a lawsuit by two Chinese journalists who were jailed after the Internet giant provided Beijing authorities with their e-mail records... As part of the settlement, Yahoo said it will provide unspecified financial assistance to the plaintiffs and their families... "There's responsibility for all U.S. corporations doing business abroad," said Morton Sklar, an attorney with the World Organization for Human Rights USA and who represented the [plaintiffs]... Yahoo no longer does business in China after selling its operations there in 2005 to...Alibaba. However, Yahoo still has influence in China, Sklar insisted, in part because it owns a major stake in Alibaba and Yang sits on that company's board. [also refers to Google]

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7 November 2007

Families of Chinese Dissidents Speak Out Against Yahoo [USA]

Author: Corey Boles, Wall Street Journal

The families of two Chinese dissidents said they hoped a congressional hearing into Yahoo's Inc.'s role in the men's imprisonment will help spur action for their release. Gao Qinsheng, the mother of jailed journalist Shi Tao, and Yu Lin, the wife of imprisoned cyber-dissident Wang Xiaoning, spoke passionately about Yahoo's conduct. Both women said they were pleased U.S. lawmakers grilled Yahoo executives about the cases during Tuesday's hearing... After Tuesday's hearing, [Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan] met privately with Ms. Gao and Ms. Yu... According to Ms. Gao, the two apologized profusely for the company's role in the jailing of Messrs. Shi and Wang, and pledged to put pressure on the Chinese government to release them. They also discussed a court case in which the women are suing the company... In his testimony..., Mr. Callahan expressed a willingness to consider settling the case...Yahoo didn't respond to questions about whether the company would attempt to pressure Beijing over the jailed men.

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2 November 2007

When American corporations deliver U.S. foreign policy...

Author: [opinion] Michael Likosky, Univ. of Wisconsin Law School & Social Risks LLC; Michael Shtender-Auerbach, Social Risks LLC, in San Francisco Chronicle

...Yahoo's policy of sharing personal records of its users with Chinese authorities has led to arrest, alleged torture and lengthy prison terms [in four cases]... [S]ome American companies promote and reinforce authoritarian capitalism and suppress democratic movements. The question is: How endemic is corporate-facilitated authoritarianism? In places such as China, one worries that legitimate reform and resistance will be squelched with the help of U.S. corporations... Yahoo's director of global public affairs, Tracy Schmaler, maintains that Yahoo's legal counsel provided "truthful" testimony in 2006 [to Congress on the case of journalist Shi Tao] and that Yahoo is working "to develop a global code of conduct for operating in countries around the world, including China." Corporate codes are important... However, we must be wary of private solutions in which the regulator and the regulated are one and the same. [also refers to Cisco, Google, Microsoft]

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2 November 2007

Yahoo in apology on China

Author: Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Mure Dickie, Financial Times

A top Yahoo official who has come under fire for the company's role in the 2004 imprisonment of a dissident in China apologised on Thursday for failing to tell US lawmakers that Yahoo knew more about the case than he initially acknowledged in testimony last year...The apology marks a shift in strategy at Yahoo, to strike a more conciliatory tone...Yahoo could still be vulnerable to future human rights-related cases involving Yahoo China, since Alibaba's boss, Jack Ma, made no secret of his willingness to co-operate closely with Beijing's authorities and with any investigations into users.

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25 October 2007

Corporate Liability Under the Alien Tort Claims Act [USA]

Author: Faith E. Gay & J. Noah Hagey, New York Law Journal

In the last decade, a veritable "who's who" of international businesses…have been sued in federal court under the United States' 215-year-old Alien Tort Statute…. On Oct. 12, 2007, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed this expansive trend, holding that corporations may be held liable for aiding and abetting a third party's human rights violations abroad under this long dormant statute. Khulumani v. Barclay Nat. Bank Ltd..... The Khulumani opinion's recognition of aiding and abetting liability for corporations under the ATS was, however, counterbalanced by the 2nd Circuit's acknowledgment of the manner in which "prudential" doctrines…can be used as a means of early termination for ATS claims. [also refers to Pfizer, Caterpillar, DaimlerChrysler (now Daimler), Texaco, UBS, Yahoo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Bridgestone/Firestone, Chiquita, Chevron, Gap, Exxon, Arab Bank, Drummond]

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29 August 2007

Full legal documents: Yahoo! asks court to dismiss jailed Chinese dissidents' lawsuit

Author: Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at Univ. of Hong Kong Journalism & Media Studies Centre, on her blog, RConversation

[links to motions to dismiss by Yahoo, complaints against Yahoo, preliminary court decision]

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28 August 2007

Yahoo to Court: Dismiss Torture Case [USA/China]

Author: Miguel Helft, New York Times

Earlier this year, a Chinese political prisoner and his wife sued Yahoo in federal court in San Francisco, accusing the company of abetting in the commission of torture by helping the Chinese government to identify political dissidents who were later beaten and tortured. Another political prisoner has since joined the case. Now Yahoo has asked the court to dismiss the case. The company makes a number of legal arguments to the court...

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