Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi and Liu Xianbin are dissident writers, jailed for what they posted online.
Cisco and its staff 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,' this according to a statement by Laogai Research Foundation, which is financially backing a lawsuit filed on Monday in the US District Court in Maryland by lawyers on behalf of three jailed Chinese writers.
"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 Foundation said in its statement. "This led to their harassment, arbitrary detention and arrest, and physical, mental, and emotional torture and abuse," it said.
In fact, the China has a tract record of tracking down and arresting political dissidents and followers of 'illegal' religions.
“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," said Harry Wu, the executive director of Laogai Research Foundation.
Last month, members of China's banned Falun Gong spiritual movement filed a similar lawsuit against Cisco, saying the company helped Chinese authorities arrest, torture and kill many of its members (see “Cisco accused of helping Beijing persecute Falun Gong followers,” in AsiaNews, 25 May 2011).
Cisco has dismissed the lawsuits as baseless, arguing it has only provided Chinese authorities with technical assistance. At the same time, it has never released any detailed information as to the nature of that assistance.
According to Clothilde Le Coz, the Washington director of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said Cisco is even more involved than one might think, that it is 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 explained.
China’s has the largest pool of internet users, 450 million, and has invested heavily in web censorship and surveillance technology, fearful of what the free flow of information might do.
Its ‘great firewall’ blocks thousands of sites, including those linked to Falun Gong and the Dalai Lama. Searches using key words like Nobel prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, Tibet, Arab spring or Jasmine Revolution are also blocked.