Plus ça change: A Chinese internet campaigner is released from prison

Posted in: Censorship at 09/09/2012 20:47

April 23rd 2002 was a turning-point in American internet companies' relations with China, though few knew so at the time. On that day Beijing's state-security bureau requested information from the Beijing office of Yahoo!, an American internet company, about the creator of an online forum, as well as e-mail registrations and messages, in a case of what the bureau called "inciting subversion". Yahoo! complied with this notice and another one that year, and soon the authorities had detained Wang Xiaoning, a democracy activist who had anonymously been using the forum and e-mail accounts to press for free elections. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Mr Wang, now 62, was released on August 31st. Much about the internet, both in China and globally, has changed in the intervening decade. American companies, notably Yahoo!, have learned from the ghastly lesson offered by his case. Before then, China had been viewed simply as a promising commercial market. Then, from 2002 to 2004, Yahoo! complied with government requests in at least three other cases similar to Mr Wang's. This emerged publicly in 2005, when Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, was sentenced to ten years for an e-mail he sent from a Yahoo! account to an overseas pro-democracy website.

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