A human rights group has sued Yahoo Inc on grounds that the US search company assisted China's communist government with torture by revealing information that led to the arrest of dissidents.
The World Organisation for Human Rights USA is seeking unspecified damages and wants Yahoo to actively secure the release of any detainees.
The group said businesses that operate abroad need to be more aware of their responsibilities.
"They should not be participating actively in promoting and encouraging major human rights abuses," said Morton Sklar, executive director for the Washington, DC-based organization.
Yahoo has acknowledged turning over data on its users at the request of the Chinese government, saying company employees face civil and criminal sanctions if they ignore local laws.
Without commenting directly on the federal lawsuit the human rights group yesterday filed in US District Court in San Francisco, Yahoo spokesman Jim Cullinan said such matters are "better suited for diplomacy than it is in the legal forum."
He said that although company officials are "distressed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political view on the Internet," Yahoo plans to keep offering services in China out of a belief the Internet can promote change and transform lives in that country.
The lawsuit cites federal laws that govern torture and other violations of international law. Plaintiffs included jailed dissident Wang Xiaoning and his wife, Yu Ling, who was visiting San Francisco this week as part of the group's campaign.