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Yahoo condemns lack of free speech in China, but says it must follow nation's law

HONG KONG (AP) – China should not punish people for expressing their political views on the Internet, Yahoo! Inc. said Monday, a day after the mother of a Chinese reporter announced she was suing the U.S. company for helping officials imprison her son.

Yahoo! criticized China in a brief statement that didn’t specifically mention the case of jailed journalist Shi Tao, whose mother visited Hong Kong on Sunday. Shi was sentenced to 10 years in 2005 after sending an e-mail about Chinese media restrictions.

The company has acknowledged sharing information about Shi with Chinese authorities.

”Yahoo! is dismayed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views on the Internet,” the company said in the statement faxed to The Associated Press, which asked Yahoo! to comment on Shi’s lawsuit.

The Internet company, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., also said it has told China that it condemns ”punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression.”

However, Yahoo! added that companies operating in China must comply with Chinese law or risk having their employees face civil or criminal penalties.

Shi was writing for the financial publication Contemporary Business News when he circulated an e-mail with his notes about a government circular about media restrictions. He was convicted of leaking state secrets.

Shi’s legal challenge, filed on May 29 in U.S. District Court, is part of a lawsuit filed earlier by the World Organization for Human Rights USA. The group is suing Yahoo Inc. and its subsidiary in Hong Kong. Also named is Alibaba.com Inc., a Yahoo partner that runs Yahoo China.

On Sunday in Hong Kong, Shi’s mother, Gao Qingsheng, insisted her son was innocent and that the family would press ahead with the legal action.

”I believe my son is innocent. We will fight until the end,” she told reporters.

The 61-year-old mother was in South Africa last week to receive the annual Golden Pen of Freedom prize on behalf of her son.

Plaintiffs in the American case also include imprisoned dissident Wang Xiaoning and his wife, Yu Ling.

Wang was sentenced in September 2003 on the charge of ”incitement to subvert state power,” a vaguely defined statute that the Communist Party frequently uses to punish its political critics.

The Chinese government said Wang distributed pro-democracy writings authored by him and others by e-mail and through Yahoo Groups, an online e-mail community.

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