Judge Tosses Claims That Yahoo Cut a Deal to Out Chinese Activists

While a federal judge tossed a case involving a pro-democracy activist who claimed Yahoo divulged his activities in exchange for access to the Chinese market, she also ruled the plaintiff has standing and a federal court has jurisdiction in the case. 

(CN) — U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh dismissed a case Thursday involving a Chinese dissident claiming that Yahoo traded his pro-democracy materials in exchange for access to the Chinese market. 

However, Koh gave the plaintiff, Ning Xianhua — who participated in the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 — leave to amend the complaint and indicated he had standing to bring the suit but failed to provide a timeframe for the events described in it. 

“The complaint does not provide any dates as to when the alleged misconduct occurred,” Koh writes in the 29-page ruling

Xinhua sued Verizon, which owns Yahoo as a subsidiary, in federal court last September, claiming that Yahoo gave the Chinese government information pertaining to various Chinese pro-democracy activities in exchange for purchase in the nation’s enormous but tightly controlled market. 

Ning, 69, lives in New York. He was a labor rights activist in China who was arrested in 2004 and convicted for subverting state power and served seven years in prison. In the complaint, Ning said he was subjected to torture, forced starvation, excessive beatings and brutal interrogation sessions during his confinement. 

Previous to his arrest, Ning said he was meticulous in his efforts to avoid detection, including encrypting his emails, but Yahoo provided vital assistance to the Chinese government, leading to his eventual apprehension. 

Ning’s lawsuit says Yahoo turned over his private information, including his phone number, IP address and the contents of his emails after Chinese authorities requested it. 

Yahoo argued that the court did not have jurisdiction in the case due to rules that prohibit excessive judicial intrusion into matters of foreign affairs, but in a positive development for Ning, Koh rejected those arguments. 

She said the defendants failed to state how the case would affect foreign affairs and said the allegations of torture and forced privation are contrary to international law. 

“The instant case involves alleged arbitrary arrest and torture, which there is international consensus on and which is not in the public interest,” Koh wrote. 

She also noted that Ning “brought the instant case not against the PRC or its officials but rather against defendants, who are private actors.”

But she agreed with the defendant’s argument about the lack of time specificity in the claims. 

“Plaintiff does not allege when he opened a Yahoo account, when he used his Yahoo account to send and receive pro-democracy materials, when he was arrested by PRC authorities, when he was confined and tortured by PRC authorities, and when he left China,” Koh wrote. 

She gave Ning leave to amend his case, meaning the lack of timeline is not fatal to the case. 

According to the complaint, Ning was arrested by twelve armed PRC officers at a restaurant in Chengdu. He was then driven 50 hours to his hometown of Shenyang where he was held in solitary confinement at a state security building, deprived of sleep, beaten by party officers and eventually shackled to the infamous spiked “Tiger Chair” for prolonged interrogation sessions in which he was repeatedly threatened with death.

Ning said his interrogators’ questions centered on his email exchanges with overseas activists and the pro-democracy writings Ning disseminated through his account, specifically one essay titled The Envisions on Establishing Unions in Northeast China.

He was eventually convicted of subversion and spent two years and four months in a Shenyang prison. He also did unpaid manual labor for ten hours a day making Christmas decorations at Dabei Prison in Shenyang, where he was punished with longer hours and beatings if he failed to meet his assigned quota.

After his release, Ning was arrested, detained and tortured again. Chinese authorities also destroyed his ancestral home in Shenyang as well as his parents’ house in retaliation for his anti-Communist advocacy, his complaint says. Released on bail, Ning fled to Thailand where the U.S. Embassy helped him gain asylum. 

Ning is seeking damages for the permanent loss of bodily function and disfigurement he sustained during his torture and imprisonment as well as reimbursement for his medical expenses and the loss of his home. 

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