Human Rights in China has launched a new campaign for the new year titled "Incorporating Responsibility 2008." Each month they're focusing on the case of a different person "who has been imprisoned for exercising his or her human rights."
Shi Tao (b.1968), a journalist, headed the news division at the Dangdai Shangbao (Contemporary Business News) in Changsha, Hunan Province prior to his arrest. On April 20, 2004, Shi attended a staff meeting where a Chinese Communist Party Central Propaganda Bureau document about security and preparation for the fifteenth anniversary of the June 4 crackdown was discussed. That evening, Shi reportedly used his personal Yahoo! e-mail account to send notes about this meeting to the New York-based website, Democracy Forum. Shi was detained on November 24, 2004. On April 27, 2005, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for illegally providing state secrets overseas. He is currently held at Deshan Prison and is due for release in 2014. For more information, please see http://www.ir2008.org.
Also see the World Association of Newspapers' "Free Shi Tao" campaign. WAN is calling on all its members to "exert serious pressure" on Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics to hold the Chinese government "to its promises of reform." The association passed a resolution in November. Here is an excerpt:
The WAN Board believes the end of 'business as usual' in China is necessary to effect belated and needed reform, and it encourages all partners in the Games, and all companies doing business with China, to speak out about China's human rights abuses," said the resolution, part of a global campaign by WAN to draw attention to Chinese press abuses and help free jailed journalists in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
By all accounts, the Beijing Games are shaping up to be a showcase for China. But these events should not be allowed to take place without active opposition by participants -- the IOC, athletes, sponsors, media partners and others -- to the repressive conditions that surround the Games. Turning a blind eye to these violations of human rights would be a scandal.
HRIC is calling on concerned members of the public to take action on Shi Tao's case by writing blog posts and letters to Chinese authorities making the following points:
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Shi Tao and others imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression;
- Urging ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression;
- Calling for the implementation and fulfillment of the right to freedom of expression, including by installing greater protections for members of the press; and
- Urging the provision of immediate and appropriate medical treatment for Shi Tao's deteriorating health; and treatment of Shi and all other prisoners in a manner consistent with the People's Republic of China (PRC) Prison Law and numerous international standards.
Last month I gave an presentation titled "Shi Tao, Yahoo!, and the lessons for corporate social responsibility" at the International Conference on Information Technology and Social Responsibility held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The presentation is based on a long paper - which is actually a modified draft book chapter. A revised version of it can be downloaded here (PDF 523.4K).
The paper attempts to document somewhat definitively all the main developments and issues surrounding the Shi Tao case, Yahoo!'s role in it, the impact that the case has had on the global debate over corporate social responsibility, and explores questions about where we go from here. It's still very much a draft, so I welcome comments, corrections, and criticisms.
My main argument is that the Shi Tao case highlights the complex challenges of corporate social responsibility for Internet and telecommunications companies: They are caught between demands of governments on one hand and rights of users on the other – not only in authoritarian countries such as China but in virtually all countries around the world. While Yahoo! may have been legally "off the hook" as far as Chinese and perhaps even U.S. law was concerned, it is not off the hook in the court of global public opinion. Moral imperatives aside, the Shi Tao case proves that Internet and telecoms companies seeking to establish trustworthy reputations across a global customer base cannot afford to ignore the human rights implications of their business practices. Customers and investors need to leverage this reality and demand that user rights be respected. I conclude that if we cannot count on the private sector to respect user rights, the need to develop non-commercial, grassroots alternatives will become all the more critical.
Here's the powerpoint of the short presentation I gave about the paper: