Two top Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) Inc. officials on Tuesday defended their company’s role in the jailing of a Chinese journalist but ran into withering criticism from lawmakers who accused them of complicity with an oppressive communist regime.
“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said angrily after hearing from the two Yahoo executives.
“I cannot ask our local employees to resist lawful demands and put their own freedom at risk, even if, in my personal view, the local laws are overbroad,” Callahan said.
Lantos rejected that argument.
“I do not believe that America’s best and brightest companies should be playing integral roles in China’s notorious and brutal political repression apparatus,” he said.
The hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Yahoo’s conduct in China was a rare public shaming of the Internet leader, whose actions led to the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao.
Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Burlingame) and other lawmakers pilloried Yang and Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s executive vice president and general counsel, for providing Chinese officials with Shi’s identity from his e-mail address in 2004, then misleading lawmakers last year about what it knew about the case.
[...] After Lantos suggested they ask for forgiveness, Yang, who emigrated from Taiwan as a child, turned and again bowed three times — each lower than the last — to Shi’s mother, Gao Qinsheng, as the 61-year-old woman dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
“I believe he really means that because we are Chinese,” Gao said through an interpreter after the hearing. “In the minute that he showed his regret and apologized, I had tears in my eyes. I accept that.”
And a little background on Rep Lantos, who may, in fact, stand on principle — if so, I couldn’t be more pleased:
“If you think our witnesses today are uncomfortable sitting in this climate-controlled room and accounting for their company’s spineless and irresponsible actions, imagine how life is for Shi Tao, spending 10 long years in a Chinese dungeon for exchanging information publicly — exactly what Yahoo claims to support in places like China,” said Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress and an ardent human rights supporter. “I would urge you to beg the forgiveness of the mother whose son is languishing behind bars due to Yahoo’s actions.”
Lantos objected to Callahan’s description of China’s requests as “lawful,” saying they were aimed at quashing political dissent, not enforcing legitimate laws.
As I said, the irony here in the face of Congress’ pending capitulation on amnesty for US telecomm companies is rich.