On Monday, October 12, 2009, Human Rights Watch announced 37 winners of the Hellman/Hammett Grant, which is given annually to writers “in recognition of their commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of political persecution.” We were pleased to learn that former Human Rights USA client, Shi Tao, was among those recognized by this award.
From the Human Rights Watch Press Release:
Shi Tao (China), poet and writer, worked as a reporter and editor at a number of newspapers and has published several volumes of poetry. He is best known in the West as the victim of Yahoo’s cooperation with the Chinese police. In a now-famous case, Yahoo helped the Chinese police identify Shi Tao as the author of a message posted anonymously on an overseas website about instructions that the Chinese propaganda department had given to newspapers. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence for “illegally providing state secrets overseas.”
In 2007, Human Rights USA represented Shi Tao in a groundbreaking corporate accountability lawsuit against Yahoo! Inc. During the course of litigation, information emerged from Yahoo! that the corporation knew about the charges against Shi Tao and, despite that knowledge, disclosed confidential records about him to the Chinese government. During a hearing before the United States Congress, Yahoo! corporate leaders were chastised for their actions and asked to apologize to the families of Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning, who had traveled to the U.S. for the hearing. Shortly after, the families settled with the company out of court.
Unfortunately, Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning remain in prison, but the work of advocacy groups like Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and recognitions like this prestigious prize from Human Rights Watch, continue to raise awareness about their situation. The plight of Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning also reinforces the need for Information and Communications Technology corporations to respect fundamental human rights when doing business in countries that use electronic communications to target human rights defenders and the media.
To read one of Shi Tao’s inspiring poems, and learn more about the repression of free media in China, click here.