WASHINGTON - Yahoo’s chief executive and top lawyer on Tuesday defended their company’s involvement in the jailing of a Chinese journalist. Irate lawmakers accused them of collaborating with an oppressive communist regime.
“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said angrily after hearing from the two men.
Yahoo chief executive Jerry Yang and general counsel Michael Callahan offered apologies and promises to do better but no specific commitments. Lawmakers insisted that Yahoo, along with other companies, must use its market strength to change China, not just comply with the government’s demands in order to gain access to tens of millions of Internet users.
“I deeply regret the consequences of what the Chinese government has done to the dissidents. My heart goes out to the families,” said Yang.
“We have to do a whole lot better and improve in the future,” he said. “I don’t think anyone was trying to do anything wrong.”
Journalist Shi Tao was sent to jail for 10 years for engaging in pro-democracy efforts deemed subversive after Yahoo turned over information about his activities requested by the Chinese authorities in 2004.
Lantos indignantly urged Yang and Callahan to apologize to Shi’s mother, who was sitting directly behind them.
Yang and Callahan turned around from the witness table and bowed from their seats to the woman, Gao Qinsheng, who bowed in return and then began to weep.
After the hearing, the Yahoo officials met with Gao Qinsheng for the first time to hear her concerns.
Callahan was summoned before the committee to explain testimony he gave Congress last year. He said then that Yahoo had no information about the nature of China’s investigation when the company handed over information that ended up being used to convict Shi.
Callahan subsequently has acknowledged that Yahoo officials had received a subpoena-like document that made reference to suspected “illegal provision of state secrets” — a common charge against political dissidents.
He reiterated Tuesday that he regretted his failure to inform the committee of this new information once he learned of it months after his congressional testimony. But Callahan continued to insist that Yahoo did not know the real nature of the investigation because the order was not specific.