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Yahoo settles dissidents suit

  • Story Highlights
  • Monetary terms of the settlement were not disclosed, says attorney in the case
  • Yahoo provided information to the Chinese government after receiving pressure
  • No immediate reaction to reports of the settlement in China
  • Court finding of Yahoo's culpability was not included in final settlement
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(CNN) -- Internet giant Yahoo has settled a lawsuit brought by the families of a Chinese dissident and a journalist, who claim they were jailed after the company cooperated with Chinese authorities, according to court documents.

Notification of the settlement was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.

An attorney involved in the case who did not want to be identified told CNN the amount of the settlement was not disclosed.

The case was filed by dissident Wang Xiaoning; his wife, Yu Ling; Shi Tao, a reporter for a Chinese newspaper; and others not identified in court documents.

China's communist government sentenced Wang to 10 years in prison for sending out pro-democracy blogs.

Although he was sentenced in 2002 and has already served five years, Yu told CNN she only recently received court documents in the case. Those documents itemized the information Yahoo provided to the government.

Shi landed in trouble three years ago when the Chinese government prohibited journalists to report on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989.

When Shi forwarded the notice to human rights groups, the Chinese government pressured Yahoo to give them the name of the account holder, and they did so. Shi was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang was contrite, saying, "My heart goes out to the families" of the dissidents.

Yahoo attorney Michael Callahan discussed what the company might have faced if it had refused to provide the information to the Chinese government.

"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 overboard," Callahan said.

However, Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, who serves as chairman of the House committee and has led the probe into Yahoo's cooperation with the Chinese government, remained critical of Yahoo in a statement issued Tuesday.

"It took a tongue-lashing from Congress before these high-tech titans did the right thing and coughed up some concrete assistance for the family of a journalist whom Yahoo had helped send to jail," Lantos said. "In my view, today's settlement is long overdue."

There was no immediate reaction to the reports of the settlement in China, as Chinese media were not reporting it and bloggers apparently had not heard about it. Video Watch what's known about the deal »

But one Shanghai-based blogger, after being told about the settlement, told CNN, "Hopefully this settlement will have a long-term restraining effect on the Internet companies beyond this individual case ... The way they are making concessions to the Chinese government is unacceptable. They are hiding from their moral obligations and standards."

The attorney in the case told CNN the families of the detainees would have preferred that the settlement include a court finding of Yahoo's culpability, that the settlement terms be made public and that the terms included enforceability by the court. However, none of that was included in the final settlement, he said.

But, the attorney said, Yahoo executives did tell the detainees' families they will do everything they can to get the men out of prison. The families are confident, the attorney said, that Congress will bring the executives back before committees if they fail to deliver.

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Yahoo and other U.S. companies, including Google and MSN, are accused of censoring their Internet search engines in China. The companies say they block content only when they're given a legal order from the Chinese to do so, and they say they always let customers know of the blocking of content.

Google told CNN it takes steps to make sure private users are not identified. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Brian Todd, Jaime FlorCruz and Wen-Chun Fan contributed to this report.

All About ChinaYahoo! Inc.

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