Yahoo Inc. has requested that the US District Court for Northern California, located in San Francisco, dismiss a lawsuit that was filed there against the Internet giant in April. The suit charges that the company engaged in actions that led directly to the detention and torture of the plaintiffs, who are Chinese citizens, by the Chinese government.
Chinese nonconformist Wang Xiaoning and his wife Yu Ling allege that Yahoo turned over private information on Wang to Chinese authorities and that this led to the man’s detention. In May, jailed Chinese journalist Shi Tao was also added to the filing as a plaintiff.
“This is a lawsuit by citizens of China imprisoned for using the Internet in China to express political views in violation of China law,” Yahoo’s motion to dismiss says. “It is a political case challenging the laws and actions of the Chinese government. It has no place in the American courts.”
Calls to Yahoo were not returned.
The plaintiffs claim that Yahoo willingly provided Chinese officials with access to private e-mail records, copies of e-mail messages, e-mail addresses, user ID numbers and other identifying information about the plaintiffs, as well as the nature and content of their use of electronic communications.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs claim that by providing Internet user identification information to the Chinese government, Yahoo knowingly and willfully aided and abetted in the commission of torture and other major abuses, violating international law, and caused the plaintiffs to endure severe physical and mental pain and suffering.
The filings were submitted based on the US Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.
“The terrible irony involved in this is that Yahoo claims protection of its freedom of speech when Yahoo’s Internet users were denied free speech,” said Morton Sklar, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “The entire blame is going on China, when the æI was following directions’ defense is not valid, and has not been since WWII. Yahoo put the gun into China’s hands. Without that there would be no abuses.”
The original suit also claims that Yahoo’s actions in China violate California state law, including prohibitions against battery, false imprisonment, assault, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and negligent supervision. It states the defendants’ conduct also breaches United States law under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act “by exceeding their authorization to access and control highly private and potentially damaging information concerning Plaintiffs’ electronic communications.”
Despite the allegations, Yahoo maintained its innocence, claiming it was just following the regulation of Chinese law.
“Free speech rights as we understand them in the United States are not the law in China,” Yahoo said in its statement Monday. “Every sovereign nation has a right to regulate speech within its borders.”
The Wangs and Shi want compensatory damages, and would also like an injunction that prevents Yahoo from having to comply with Chinese authorities’ requests for private information. They also seek help with Wang and Shi’s release from detention.
Yahoo responded that Wang and Shi should have known they were putting themselves in danger.
“They assumed the risk of harm when they chose to use Yahoo China e-mail and group list services to engage in activity they knew violated Chinese law,” Yahoo said in the filing.