Jerry Yang, Yahoo! co-founder, yesterday said his company had to provide information to authorities that led to the conviction of a mainland journalist, because the internet giant had no choice but to obey local laws.
'To be doing business in China or anywhere else in the world ... we absolutely have to comply with local laws,' Mr Yang told an internet industry conference sponsored by Alibaba.com. Yahoo! has formed a strategic partnership with the mainland e-commerce company.
Reporters Without Borders has accused Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd of providing mainland authorities with details that helped identify and convict Shi Tao to 10 years in prison for 'revealing state secrets'.
The international rights group says Shi was traced by his Yahoo! e-mail account after sending information to foreign websites about threats to social stability ahead of the anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The case has drawn the attention of foreign governments and sparked criticism from rights groups and media overseas.
Asked specifically about the Shi Tao case, Mr Yang implied the company had received a legal request, though he didn't specify from which mainland government body. 'It was very clear. It was a legal process. They have to give to get that kind of information,' he said.
He declined to give details, saying he didn't know exactly what information was provided. Yahoo! gets similar requests in several countries, including 'many' in China, he said.
'I do not like the outcome of what happens with these things, but we get a lot of these orders every day. We do not know why they ask for them, but we have to comply with the law, and that's what you need to do for business,' Mr Yang said, drawing applause from the largely Chinese audience.
Former US president Bill Clinton, who spoke at the conference, sidestepped the issue of the jailed journalist despite calls from rights groups to raise the case.
Human Rights in China said: 'Companies need to take responsibility for the serious repercussions of their complicity in maintaining information censorship and repressive control.'
Mr Clinton told the forum that the internet had the potential to put political power in the hands of common people.
'In China, I think that so far the political system and the restraints of political speech and the internet have not seemed to have any adverse commercial consequences. It will be interesting to see whether that's true for the future,' Mr Clinton said.