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Yahoo pressured over China cooperation

Reporters Without Borders confronts Yahoo at its headquarters, shows video from man whose brother was sentenced to hard labor.

Yahoo's long-running defense of its Chinese operations, which have been criticized for close cooperation with the country's police agencies, took an unusual twist this week in a confrontation at the company's headquarters.

Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders, a free speech advocacy organization, stopped by Yahoo's San Jose, Calif., headquarters on Monday accompanied by a film crew from ABC World News Tonight. In a moment reminiscent of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," Pain asked to meet with company executives--but Yahoo sent out its security guards instead.

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Video: Fighting Yahoo's China policies
Lawyer, family of dissidents speak out.

Eventually, after tense negotiations accompanied by threats of having him arrested by police for trespassing, Yahoo relented and arranged a meeting with two unnamed executives. "They were just trying to handle some PR crisis," Pain told CNET afterward. "It's a PR crisis? No, it's a human rights crisis."

Yahoo has come under fire, including at a congressional hearing in February, for choosing to locate servers used by Yahoo Mail inside China instead of in a jurisdiction that is more protective of free speech and privacy rights, which Google and Microsoft already do. (A Yahoo representative did not return multiple phone calls on Wednesday.)

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders revealed in September that information provided by Yahoo was used to convict Shi Tao, a 37-year-old journalist, of leaking "state secrets." Then, in February, the group reported that Yahoo turned over information that led to the arrest of Li Zhi, a 35-year-old ex-civil servant from the southwestern province of Dazhou, and an eight-year prison sentence in 2003.

In a short video that the advocacy group provided to CNET that was filmed in Beijing last month, Li's brother pleaded with Yahoo to change its policy, saying: "His health wasn't great before he was imprisoned...Since he's been in jail, he's caught pleurisy (inflamed lung membranes), because of doing hard labor. Now his health is real bad."

In a statement last month, Yahoo defended its actions, saying: "In this specific case the Chinese government ordered Yahoo China to provide user information and Yahoo China complied with local laws."

A second video features Mo Shaoping, China's leading legal advocate for political dissidents, who says that many other cases of Yahoo's collaboration with the Chinese police have gone unreported. "It has done the same to many others," Mo said. "I have several names but I can't reveal them because these cases have not yet been brought to trial."

During February's hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives panel, some politicians compared Yahoo's collaboration with China's ruling Communist Party to companies that helped the Nazi regime exterminate the Jews. A proposed bill in the House would probably force Yahoo and other companies to move servers out of China.

Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan testified in February that Yahoo was "unaware of the particular facts" about the case, such as Shi's identity and occupation, until news reports surfaced. Also, the company is an investor in and does not have day-to-day control of Yahoo China, which is run by, he said.