SAN FRANCISCO—The wife of a Chinese dissident came to San Francisco to file a lawsuit last Wednesday against Yahoo! for revealing her husband's identity to the Chinese communist regime. Her husband, Wang Xiaoning, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for simply voicing his pro-democratic opinions on the Internet.
Yu Ling, 55, appears at first to be a frail woman of small stature. The determination that shines from her eyes, however, shows her to be anything but weak.
"Yahoo!'s action took away my husband's freedom," Yu said through an interpreter. "I am here to let them know that what they have done is wrong."
Yu's life was forever changed on Sept. 1, 2002, when a group of Chinese national security agents arrested her husband and ransacked her home without any warning. After taking away their computers and related materials, the agents threatened her and told her to not mention the incident to anyone.
She didn't see her husband again until more than one year later. "He had aged so much from when I last saw him," Yu recounts after seeing her husband in March 2004. "His physical state was very frail, his eyes were dazed, and he had no facial expression. He was constantly coughing. His hair was completely white and he appeared extremely old."
Since his arrest, Yu has been in a state of constant pressure, filled with anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, and pain. She is not able to truly disclose this to others, but has been silently bearing it on her own.
Her husband, Wang Xiaoning, edited and wrote for electronic journals such as Free Forum of Political Reform and Commentaries on Current Political Affairs . These writings call for democratic reform and a multi-party system in China. During the years 2000-2002, Wang also posted pro-democracy articles on websites inside China and abroad. When the website administrators blocked his actions, he started sending out his journal anonymously to individual e-mail addresses.
Yahoo! HK, a subsidiary of Yahoo!, provided the Chinese government with identifying information that linked Wang to the pro-democracy Internet communications. With evidence provided by Yahoo!, a Chinese court was able to convict and sentence Wang to 10 years in prison for "incitement to subvert state power." Wang was detained at the Detention Center of Beijing State Security Bureau, and was eventually put into Qincheng Prison in 2004.
"The verdict booklet was a total of 14 pages," says Yu as she held out a copy of the document. "In nine of those pages Yahoo!'s name was mentioned, and throughout the document were email addresses and user IDs listed as part of court evidence. Therefore, I think Yahoo! has major responsibility."
And so she came to the U.S. to seek justice, at a great risk to her personal safety.
Though Yahoo! and several other tech companies had to testify before the Human Rights Caucus of the U.S. Congress in February of 2006, little seems to have changed since then. An Amnesty International article states: "So far we have no evidence to suggest that Yahoo! has made the most basic attempts to ensure that they were operating according to international standards."
Though nothing can undo the pain and suffering Yu and her family have been through, with the lawsuit, Yu hopes to bring about change.
"I hope that Yahoo! will take considerable action to call for the release of my husband and others like him who are detained for voicing their different opinions." Yu also hopes that major tech companies will no longer comply with the demands of the Chinese government that result in the prosecution of innocent people.