Top American computer networking equipment maker Cisco has been slapped with a second lawsuit accusing it of helping Chinese authorities build computer systems that track the Internet activity of dissidents.
The latest suit against Cisco and its senior management personnel was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Maryland by lawyers on behalf of three jailed Chinese writers.
The defendants are accused of "knowingly aiding and abetting the Chinese government’s Internet crackdown by providing technology and training for the construction and operation of the 'Golden Shield Project,' also known as 'China’s Great Firewall,' according to a statement by Laogai Research Foundation.
The Washington-based foundation, which focuses on publicizing China’s extensive system of forced-labor prison camps, is financially backing the lawsuit by the imprisoned dissident writers Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin.
"It was through network surveillance technology provided by Cisco that the Chinese Ministry of Public Security was able to track the plaintiffs down for exercising their right to free speech," the statement said.
"This led to their harassment, arbitrary detention and arrest, and physical, mental, and emotional torture and abuse," it said.
The three writers are seeking compensatory damages for "injuries" and are requesting that Cisco and its senior management personnel "be held accountable for their actions."
The statement charged that since early 2000, Cisco was involved with the construction of the “Golden Shield Project,” providing technology and training to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security which the government used to "monitor, track, and arrest political dissidents, practitioners of 'illegal' religions, and anyone who posts content that threatens the stability of the Communist Party.
This, it added, has affected "countless" victims, including detained artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, civil rights activist Chen Guangchen, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
“In reality, Cisco is a company that would do business with any partner so long as it turns a profit, even at the expense of our people’s rights and freedoms," Harry Wu, the executive director of Laogai Research Foundation, told a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.
"And through the decade-long partnership with the Chinese government, Cisco technology training has ensured that the international audience for its ‘message of hope’ does not include the Chinese people,” he said.
There was "ample coverage of the company’s involvement with the Chinese Public Security Bureau in the Chinese media,” Wu contended.
Last month, members of China's banned Falun Gong spiritual movement filed a lawsuit against Cisco, saying the company aided torture and repression in China through its sales of surveillance software to the Chinese government.
According to the complaint, filed in a San Jose federal court, the Chinese authorities used Cisco’s “Golden Shield” firewall to track Falun Gong members, who were then arrested and tortured.
The lawsuit was filed with the help of the Human Rights Law Foundation based on U.S. laws allowing foreign nationals to complain about violations of international law.
Cisco has dismissed the lawsuits as baseless.
"The lawsuits are inaccurate and entirely without foundation," said Cisco president Mark Chandler in a statement.
"We have never customized our equipment to help the Chinese government—or any government—censor content, track Internet use by individuals or intercept Internet communications," he said.
Chandler said the lawsuits were based on recycled allegations raised by the Falun Gong group three years ago.
'Difficult to prove'
Clothilde Le Coz, the Washington director of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said Cisco has been responsible for training Chinese police officers on the "Golden Shield" system.
"So, we know that Cisco has that role. What is really difficult to prove, though, is to what extent there is a direct link between Cisco, that training, and the arrest of all the dissidents,” she said in an interview.
Last month, China set up a nationwide command center to oversee the country's 477 million netizens and to "manage information" on the Internet, prompting fears that online controls will get tighter still.
Reported by Richard Finney and Parameswaran Ponnudurai.