BEIJING — The Beijing government has released “most wanted” photographs of suspects captured on film during the recent Tibet riots and carried on Chinese versions of Yahoo! and MSN, prompting further criticism of the role international webcos play in tracking down dissidents.
The “most wanted” also ran on Chinese portals such as Sina.com and news.qq.com along with a hotline for informants to call. Of the 24 named in the manhunt list, two have already been caught.
These sites have not come under the widening restrictions on Internet use in China, which has played havoc with email access, as well as shutting down sites related to last week’s Tibetan riots.
Nasdaq-listed Yahoo! owns 40% of Alibaba, which operates Yahoo! China.
“It beggars belief that Yahoo! is acting as China’s right-hand man in its brutal crackdown on Tibetan protesters,” said Free Tibet campaign director Matt Whitticase. “Yahoo! knows very well that these protesters will have no access to legal representation and that either execution or long prison sentences and torture awaits any protester arrested in Lhasa. Free Tibet Campaign calls on all Yahoo! subscribers to cancel immediately their accounts.”
The company has been criticized before for helping the Chinese government control dissent after it was revealed that it helped the police in its inquiry over the journalist Shi Tao.
Material from his Yahoo! email account was used in his trial and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005 for “divulging state secrets.”
It subsequently emerged that Yahoo! had provided evidence against other Chinese dissidents.
Foreign webcos defend their co-operation with the Chinese government by saying that it is better to have some censorship than no presence whatsoever in the world’s biggest Internet market.
In November, Congress’ House Foreign Affairs Committee was critical of Yahoo!’s role in helping the Chinese jail dissidents. Yahoo! said its operation in China was handled by Alibaba.
There are reports that bloggers in China have been told by the local Internet watchdog that they face arrest and “appropriate action” if they discuss the Tibetan riots.