Clinton Didn't Raise Jailed Journalist Case at China Net Summit

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - Former President Clinton, who addressed a weekend Internet summit in China, says he did not raise the issue of a Chinese journalist, jailed for emailing sensitive information to the U.S., because he was not aware of the incident.

He told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that he only heard about the Shi Tao case on Sunday, the day after he addressed the summit.

Clinton was traveling in Kazakhstan, India and China last week as global media outlet reported on the claim that Shi was jailed for ten years after the Chinese authorities obtained information identifying him from the U.S. Internet company, Yahoo.

On Thursday, Cybercast News Service reported that human rights campaigners wanted Clinton to raise the issue at the summit, which was hosted by Yahoo's new partner in China,

The following day, Human Rights in China and Reporters Without Frontiers issued a joint letter to the former president, asking him to urge Western Internet companies operating in China to respect freedom of speech.

"Internet companies must be open on where they stand with respect to their human rights obligations," they said, adding that Clinton had a valuable opportunity to relay that message.

According to wire reports, Clinton did not speak at the summit about Beijing's handling of Internet dissidents.

He was quoted as saying that the Chinese limits on free speech did not appear to have had any adverse consequences on e-commerce, and that it would be interesting to see whether that held true in the future.

Clinton also said that "the Internet has the potential to put power through information and communication in the hands of ordinary people."

Reporters Without Frontiers says China has jailed at least 62 people for activities relating to use of the Internet, including posting political information or accessing prohibited political sites.

As reported last week, Shi was jailed for 10 years last spring after being found guilty of emailing "state secrets" to a pro-democracy Chinese publication in the U.S.

A translation of his trial record indicated that investigators tracked him down with the help of information "furnished by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong)."

Yahoo responded to criticism by saying it was obliged like any other global company to "ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based."

At the weekend summit in China, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang said he could not talk about the details of the Shi case, but that China's demand for the information was a "legal order."

Earlier, media freedom campaigners said Western companies operating in China should cooperate and develop a common stance that would allow them to do business while not compromising ethical values.

In their letter to Clinton, the two rights groups asked him to encourage foreign businesses in China to implement a draft U.N. document called "Norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights."

The "norms" document is a draft proposal still under consideration, and has no legal standing. It calls on transnational corporations to refrain from any activity that supports or encourages states to abuse human rights.

Speaking at the U.S. Embassy the day after the summit, Clinton said the more China grew economically and opened up to the rest of the world, the more there would have to be some room for dissent.

"In the end there'll have to be more freedom of expression here," he said.

China has the world's fastest growing number of Internet users, now exceeding 100 million.

See earlier stories:
Jailing of Chinese Journalist: Yahoo's Defense Called Inadequate (Sept. 09, 2005)
Yahoo Under Fire Over Jailing of Chinese Journalist (Sept. 08, 2005)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow