Rule banning homosexual content from online media programs to be challenged in court

A Beijing court accepted on Wednesday to hear a case challenging a government regulator to disclose its reasons for banning depictions of homosexuality from online content.

Fan Chunlin, a 30-year-old man from Shanghai, filed a litigation in Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court against the China State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). He is suing the SAPPRFT for failing to clarify the legal basis on which they approved the decision to ban homosexual content from online media platforms. The court agreed to hear Fan’s case and the verdict is expected in six months, said the plaintiff’s lawyer, Tang Xiangqian, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

In June 2017 the China Netcasting Services Association, which is supervised by SAPPRFT, published guidelines for censoring online media programs. It was required that internet-content providers ban programs containing “pornography or vulgarity depicting abnormal sexual relationships or behaviours”, with homosexuality falling into the category of “abnormal sexual behaviours” alongside incest, sexual perversion, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual violence.

In response, Fan asked SAPPRFT and the Association to disclose the grounds for the formulation of the guidelines so as to prove their legitimacy. After the regulator replied that the information requested was beyond their duty of disclosure, he resolved to take the case to court.

Fan’s lawyer said in an interview that the chances of winning the case are likely to be narrow, due to the fact that a government department is being challenged. He added however that they view the filing of the case as a major step on its own, in that it is making a stand for the homosexual community in China, and will hopefully raise public awareness on LGBTQ issues in China.

The situation for the LGBT community has evolved a lot over the last decades. In 1997 the crime of “hooliganism”, which included homosexuality, was abolished, effectively legalizing homosexual relationships. Homosexuality was then removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001. Even so, members of the LGBTQ community in China often suffer from stigma, discrimination, bullying and in some cases even forced medical treatment.

This is also not the first time that a Chinese government department or the SAPPRFT are challenged in court concerning homosexuality. In 2015, a female student from Zhongshan University sued the Ministry of Education for not responding to her complaint about homophobic content in a textbook. She lost after a second appeal, however the case brought the issue to the spotlight and caused heated debate.

Also in 2015, after a documentary about family recognition of homosexuality was abruptly taken down by China’s major video-sharing sites, the director Fan Popo sued SAPPRFT. One of the websites involved had told Fan that they had removed the documentary on SAPPRFT’s instructions, but the regulator’s response to Fan’s query was to deny any involvement. The court eventually ruled that SAPPRFT had indeed not required the documentary to be taken down, but it also ruled that they had technically provided Fan with an improper response, and required them to pay the litigation fees of 50 Yuan. On the other hand, the rest of Fan’s claims were all rejected, leaving the real reason why the documentary was withdrawn unclear, and no promise was made that the documentary would be available again.

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