Groups urge US lawmakers to approve online free speech law

Fourteen human rights groups urged the US Congress to pass legislation aimed at preventing US technology companies from cooperating with China or other countries in stifling online free speech, an AFP report said.

The report said the groups, including Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, issued a joint statement supporting the Global Online Freedom Act of 2006 sponsored by Representative Christopher Smith.

The bill could impose fines or criminal penalties on companies that cooperated with governments in a crackdown on online freedom of expression, the report said.

The AFP report also said the legislation, pending in a House committee, was introduced after news that China had pressured Yahoo to turn over names of political dissidents who sent sensitive information over email. Yahoo denied helping Beijing.

Additionally, backers of the bill said Microsoft shut down blogs in China in which Chinese users were criticizing their government, and persuaded Google to censor its search engine results.

The US administration had not commented publicly on the bill, the report said.