The wife of an imprisoned Chinese dissident has sued Yahoo for divulging information about her husband's internet activity, which allegedly led to his arrest and torture.
The suit was filed by the World Organisation for Human Rights USA on behalf of Yu Ling, the wife of Wang Xiazoning, said Monique Beadle, refugee project director for the organisation. Wang was arrested in September 2002 on charges including "incitement to subvert state power."
Ling is seeking damages under the Alien Torture Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act, two statutes under which US companies have been sued for allegedly aiding in human rights abuses overseas, Beadle said.
Ling, who is now reportedly in San Francisco, said court records show that the Chinese government requested records of her husband's internet activity, which Yahoo provided. Now, Wang "has been tortured in the Chinese prison where he is being held," according to Beadle.
Yahoo said in a statement that it has not had time to review the lawsuit and could not comment on it. It added that it was "distressed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views on the internet."
The US State Department, which handles foreign relations, should "continue making this issue of free expression a priority in bilateral and multilateral forums with the Chinese," Yahoo said.
The case highlights the pressure under which Western technology companies operate in China, and how their activities are scrutinised for their influence on human rights.
Yahoo has come under repeated fire by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. One prominent case involved the journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced in April 2005 for divulging state secrets to foreigners.
Yahoo turned over email from Tao's account to authorities, including one he sent to pro-democracy activists in New York about Chinese government concerns about unrest during an anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Yahoo, along with technology giants such as Google and Microsof, have defended their actions by saying they must abide by the laws of the country in which they operate.