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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today Yahoo became the first Internet company to be sued in the United States for human rights violations in China. The wife of a Chinese dissident has brought an action in a federal district court in San Francisco which accuses Yahoo of giving up her husband's name to the communist authorities.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: According to Yu Ling, on September 1st 2002, 10 local security police arrived at her Beijing home to arrest her husband Wang Xiaoning.

Ms. YU LING (Wife of Wang Xiaoning): (Through translator) They took away his drafts and his journals.

SYDELL: Wang had been the editor of several online publications on political reform in China, which he sent anonymously to an e-mail list. For this, says Yu, her husband was charged with incitement to subvert state power and other similar charges. Wang was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

When Yu looked at the court papers from her husband sentencing, she discovered who had revealed the writer of those publications to authorities.

Ms. LING: (Through translator) The different pages has Yahoo written all over the place. It's very prevalent to me that Yahoo is the culprit.

SYDELL: Now that her husband is in prison, Yu doesn't see him very often, but he's told her of being beaten and tortured. She recalls the first time she saw him after his imprisonment.

Ms. LING: (Through translator) He was emaciated, weak, and he kept coughing non-stop. He had no expression whatsoever. He was seeing through me.

SYDELL: Yu is now in San Francisco as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Yahoo. Morton Sklar is one of her attorneys and the executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights U.S.A.

Mr. MORTON SKLAR (Executive Director, World Organization for Human Rights U.S.A.): Corporations acting that way, facilitating, aiding and abetting the commission of these kinds of atrocities should be held accountable for that.

SYDELL: Sklar says U.S. corporations can be held accountable for their actions abroad under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victims Protection Act. He says the Supreme Court affirmed that in a decision in 2004.

Mr. SKLAR: The Supreme Court said that torture is a special quality, a special nature. They made clear that torture is something that needs to be looked at by the U.S. courts.

SYDELL: While Yahoo's actions in China may be troubling, not all attorneys are so sure that an American corporation doing business abroad can be held accountable in a U.S. court. Deirdre Mulligan, a professor at University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall Law School, says this is a very vibrant and unsettled area of the law.

Professor DEIRDRE MULLIGAN (Law, University of California Berkeley): This is not a case where they're going to say, okay, well, we can easily apply acts and get to the outcome that's being fought by the litigants in this case.

SYDELL: Mulligan says there have been dozens of cases brought against corporations under the Alien Tort Claims Act. She says this case could set an important precedent. Tech companies Google and Microsoft have also been criticized for cooperating with Chinese authorities in order to do business there.

Human rights groups say Wang is one of four dissidents jailed because of Yahoo. Officials at Yahoo expressed regret about what happened to Wang Xiaoning. Jim Cullinan, a company spokesperson, says for all Yahoo knew authorities in China wanted information to track a murderer.

Mr. JIM CULLINAN (Spokesperson, Yahoo): They're not required to inform service providers for the reasons why they are seeking user information with the nature of the criminal investigation.

SYDELL: Yu Ling says she will return to China, where she does not know what fate awaits her.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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