BEIJING – A Chinese dissident imprisoned for 10 years on a state subversion conviction supported by evidence from Web portal Yahoo is due to be released Friday after completing his term, his wife said.
The American Internet company drew strong condemnation from U.S. lawmakers and rights advocates for cooperating with Chinese authorities in prosecuting dissidents and a well-known journalist. The company later apologized and settled a lawsuit with the families involved for an undisclosed amount.
Wang Xiaoning's wife Yu Ling said in a phone interview that the Beijing No. 2 Prison told her of his release Friday morning and that she should meet him at the prison gate.
"I'm very happy that finally I can be reunited with my husband after all these years," Yu said.
Wang was detained in September 2002 and later sentenced for "incitement to subvert state power" — a vaguely defined charge frequently used to punish political critics. Wang distributed pro-democracy writings by e-mail and through Yahoo Groups.
A former engineer in China's weapons industry, Wang had been detained previously for his political activities following the June 4, 1989, military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Rights groups said that passages from writings cited at his trial in 2003 included: "Without a multiparty system, free elections and separation of powers, any political reform is fraudulent." Others called China an "authoritarian dictatorship," and complained of continuing widespread corruption, poverty and workers exploitation.
A lawsuit Wang and others filed in the United States showed that Yahoo's wholly owned subsidiary based in Hong Kong gave police information linking Wang to his anonymous e-mails and other political writings he posted online.
Yahoo could not immediately be reached for comment.
The case has raised questions about whether Internet companies should cooperate with governments that deny freedom of speech and frequently crack down on journalists. It also has been the subject of congressional hearings in the United States, where lawmakers accused the company of collaborating with an oppressive communist regime.
Yahoo Inc. started coming under fire in 2005 in the case of journalist Shi Tao. Rights groups complained that the company was cooperating with Chinese authorities and that it had disclosed information about the online activities of Shi and of dissidents including Wang.
Yahoo had given Chinese prosecutors e-mails from Shi's account, which was used as evidence that led to his conviction in 2005 for providing state secrets to foreigners. Shi, whose e-mails allegedly contained notes about a government memo on media restrictions, is still serving a 10 year sentence.
The Sunnyvale, California-based company had steadfastly maintained it had to comply with a request from Chinese authorities to share information about the online activities of the two Chinese nationals. But that quickly turned into a public relations nightmare as irate federal lawmakers lambasted it on Capitol Hill, accusing it of collaborating with an oppressive regime. Yahoo then settled a lawsuit with Shi and Wang in 2007.
Dissident He Depu, an old friend of Wang's and a prison mate of his for a time, said he looked forward to Wang's return. He said Yahoo deserved to be censured.
"By providing information to Chinese authorities, Yahoo directly harmed those who used Yahoo's email accounts," He said. "There is no doubt that Yahoo must be criticized and condemned for what it did."