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Federal Lawsuit Claims Yahoo Management’s Secret Pact with China Supported Torture, Imprisonment of Pro-Democracy Activists

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Attorneys for renowned Chinese activist Ning Xianhua have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Yahoo Inc. founder Jerry Yang and CEO Terry Semel provided Mr. Ning’s Yahoo emails to Chinese authorities in a joint effort to silence pro-democracy dissidents in China and to aid Mr. Ning’s capture, imprisonment, and torture by Chinese government officials. Yahoo’s successor companies, Oath Holdings, a division of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Altaba Inc. (NASDAQ: AABA) are also named as defendants in the case. 

 According to the lawsuit, Mr. Ning, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre, used his Yahoo email account to “privately spread pro-democracy messages and publications, coordinating with other activists through communications he believed to be secure.”  

 The lawsuit alleges Yahoo enabled the Chinese communist regime to monitor Chinese citizens’ private emails, including correspondence between Mr. Ning and U.S. residents, through a series of confidential agreements between Yahoo management in California and the Chinese government. In return, the Chinese government provided the company with commercial access to more than 100 million Chinese internet users and the possibility of enormous profits. 

 Based on pro-democracy messages in emails disclosed to Chinese authorities, Mr. Ning was arrested on charges of subversion and subjected to extreme physical and mental abuse, documented in detail in the filing – both prior to and during his seven-year prison term that began in 2004. After his release, Mr. Ning suffered additional arrest and torture, leading him to escape from China in 2016 and receive asylum in the United States.   

 Mr. Ning now lives in New York City, but due to his limited English proficiency and physical injuries he suffered during his detention and torture, he depends on others in the Chinese community for his basic needs. 

 “The Yahoo Defendants have always concealed and never disclosed that they provided PRC (People’s Republic of China) officials with information that led to Mr. Ning’s arbitrary arrest and conviction, inhumane torture, and resulting permanent injuries,” the filing states. “Mr. Ning hopes that, through this lawsuit, the Yahoo Defendants are finally made to answer for the torture and injuries befalling Mr. Ning as a result of their misconduct.”  

 The lawsuit alleges claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign nationals to seek remedies in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed outside the United States with the assistance and knowledge of domestic companies. The filing further alleges violations of the federal Torture Victims Protection Act, which provides a civil remedy against anyone who conspires in the torture or extrajudicial killing of individuals in foreign countries. 

 “The documented collusion between a U.S. company and a communist regime is appalling, and the resulting torture of Chinese citizens is gut-wrenching,” says famed trial lawyer Mark Lanier of Houston’s The Lanier Law Firm, who is co-counsel for Mr. Ning. “We have a respected, global corporation knowingly condoning these violations, all in the name of corporate profits.”  

“Mr. Ning’s human rights were cruelly violated by Yahoo’s secret actions with Chinese authorities,” says Paul L. Hoffman, co-counsel for Mr. Ning and partner in the Los Angeles-based firm of Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP.  “U.S. law forbids this kind of complicity in these egregious human rights violations. We are proud to represent Mr. Ning in seeking the justice he deserves under U.S. and international law.”  

The lawsuit is Ning Xianhua v. Oath Holdings Inc., f/k/a Yahoo! Inc. et al, filed in United States District Court in San Jose.  

About the Lanier Law Firm  

For more than 30 years, the men and women at The Lanier Law Firm have worked tirelessly, throughout the United States, to find unique and effective solutions for their clients. More than 60 skilled attorneys practice law in a broad array of areas, including business litigation, pharmaceutical litigation, asbestos exposure, oil and gas litigation, personal injury as well as defective and dangerous products, among others. Named an Elite Trial Law Firm by The National Law Journal, The Lanier Law Firm has offices in Houston, New York and Los Angeles.  

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