Lawsuit initiated over shutdown of Chinese BBS on Hepatitis-B Virus

By: spambot on 25 February 2008

On November 20, 2007, the Beijing Communications Administration (BCA) ordered the closure of a popular Internet forum on the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). The Hepatitis B Camp Network of China [?????? ] ( was started in September 2001 and has over 300,000 registered users. Lu Jun, the site administrator, filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the BCA committed an unlawful administrative act in ordering the closure of the site without notice. He is simultaneously pursuing negotiations with the Bureau to re-open the forum. Since its shutdown, the BBS has been hosted overseas.

As an online community for people with HBV, the message forum hosted medical advice from professionals, the first HBV-related ‘rights protection’ board and a ‘blacklist’ of companies promoting fake treatments and drugs. The BBS is an initiative of the Beijing YiRenPing Center, a rights defense organization that fights discrimination against people with HBV.

In China, over 800 people die daily as a result of the Hepatitis B virus while approximately 120 million people, almost 10 percent of the population, are carriers. Despite its being epidemic in China, HBV has received what many criticize as a more uneven and lackadaisical government response than HIV/AIDS, despite its comparatively low estimate of those infected.

According to the complaint, the BBS became inaccessible around 6:00 pm on November 20. The forum’s network access provider stated that the BBS was ordered closed by the BCA, the bureau responsible for the capital city under the Ministry of Information Industry. The BCA’s specific justification for the closure was the Ministry of Health’s 2001 Measures for the Administration of Internet Medical Health Information Services (in Chinese). These Measures state that websites providing medical health information services or publishing medical health information to online users must register with the departments responsible for Internet Information Services (Articles 2, 6). In the complaint, Lu Jun claims that the Hepatitis B Camp Network of China BBS consists entirely of user-generated discussions and forums rather than medical health information services, and therefore did not need to undergo registration procedures. He also cites to both the Measures and the State Council’s Measures on the Management of Internet Information Services, which require that infringing websites be given notice as well as a period of time to ‘cure’ before being shut down.

One of the functions of the BBS has been to combat a cycle where companies spread misrepresentations about HBV in order to sell medical testing services or fake cures to the public and end up exacerbating persistent discrimination against HBV-positive people. Two main sites of discrimination are the workplace and schools, where annual compulsory testing is common. Students and employees who test positive for HPV are frequently expelled, fired, or forced out of their employment contracts. Despite a number of official directives lifting the ban on people who are HBV positive in civil service and instructing employers not to discriminate against HBV-positive job seekers, there is still enough ambiguity in the law and paucity of enforcement to empower government agencies, employers and universities with wide discretion. A number of NGOs have been pursuing impact litigation to stem discriminatory employment practices, including the YiRenPing Center’s 15 HBV-related anti-discrimination lawsuits in 2007.