China Says Internet Freedom Assured as Baidu Faces New York Suit

Baidu Sued in New York for Censoring China Web Search
China requires websites to self censor pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party, a rule that led Google Inc. to pull its search engine out of the country last year. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

China, responding to a lawsuit in the U.S. that accused the Chinese government and local search engine Baidu Inc. of censoring Internet information, said Web users are free to express themselves.

China guarantees “freedom of speech” on the Internet, Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said today in response to questions about the case. Eight Chinese residents in New York filed a lawsuit in the city yesterday against Baidu, saying the Chinese company helps the government censor political expression in violation of the U.S. constitution.

Foreign courts have no jurisdiction in China, Jiang said today at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

China requires websites to self censor pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party, a rule that led Google Inc. to pull its search engine out of the country last year. The world’s largest Internet market by users blocks Google’s YouTube video-sharing site as well as social networking services run by Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

The plaintiffs seek $16 million in damages from the company and the Chinese government after their “writings, publications and coverage of pro-democracy events” were censored and banned from Baidu’s search engine, according to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. They also charge Baidu and China violated New York State civil rights laws.

Kaiser Kuo, a spokesman for Baidu, declined to comment. The Beijing-based company, which operates China’s most popular search engine, trades on the Nasdaq Stock Market, where its American depositary receipts rose 3 cents to $131.84 yesterday.

“China will be required to answer the complaint or there will be a default judgment against them,” Stephen Preziosi, the New York-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview.

Baidu has enjoyed a “near monopoly” in Internet searches in China since Google Inc. cut back on operations there, according to a presentation this month by brokerage CLSA Ltd.

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The complaint refers to the plaintiffs as “promoters of democracy in China through their writings, publications, reporting.”

“They put their stuff on the Internet,” Preziosi said. “Now you have a foreign state using a private corporation as its arm, agent and enforcer in suppressing and censoring political speech.”

Two of the plaintiffs list addresses in Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, that has a large concentration of Chinese-speaking Americans.

The case is Zhang v. Baidu.com Inc., 11-3388, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)

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