BEIJING–One recent spring morning when 36-year-old Lu Jun booted up his computer and tried to access Hbvhbv.com – a website he operates to help China's nearly 100 million hepatitis B carriers – it wasn't there.
"At first I thought it was just a technical glitch," says Lu, "maybe a problem with the server."
That was May 29 – and the website hasn't been seen since.
Not from inside China.
Hbvhbv.com is yet another victim of the Chinese government's heightened vigilance in the run-up to next month's Olympic Games.
The problem? The website not only offers courage to China's hepatitis B carriers – who face job discrimination on a shocking scale – but dares to share advice about virus carriers' rights under law.
Advocating for rights in an authoritarian state will bring you under scrutiny at the best of times. But with the Olympics coming, that scrutiny is growing even sharper.
Today, the government is continuing to shut down anyone it thinks might pose a threat to social order when the curtains rise on the Games – and Hbvhbv.com is a platform that speaks to millions.
China has 95 million hepatitis B carriers, the latest survey shows.
"Many people have told me the government doesn't want any `noise,' either before or during the Olympic Games," explains Lu, a former IT specialist who now devotes himself entirely to helping hep B virus carriers.
Those capable of producing `noise' are being swept up, shut down or put under surveillance. They include vagrants, beggars, human rights lawyers, AIDS activists, people from the provinces who bring petitions to the capital – even Beijing's hard working though threadbare garbage recyclers have been driven from the city.
Although they provide a valuable service, they're regarded by authorities as an embarrassment for a city that seeks to gleam.
Lu, an undaunted HBV carrier himself, is appealing to the government to get his site back up and running. The sooner the better, it seems: hepatitis B carriers are fuming.
"It has caused a lot of anger among the HBV community," Lu observes worriedly, "toward the Games, the government and the (Communist) Party."
For many, he says, "this was their only way to tell their stories, share their experiences, express their feelings – and now the government has taken that away."
Last month a discussion on the popular Tianya Web forum lit up with anger – and hurt.
"Is it because of the Olympics that they've blocked this website? Damn. No wonder they (China's opponents) want a boycott," wrote one commentator, gamely named "I don't love you enough."
Wrote another, named Jiaxin, "The first World Hepatitis Day just passed and the whole world cares about hepatitis B carriers. And China? It blocks the HBV carriers' website."
Another wrote simply, "I love this country. But this country doesn't love me, because I'm a hepatitis B virus carrier."
Hepatitis B is the world's most common serious liver infection. The virus, which attacks the liver, is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex or the use of unsterile needles. It also can pass from an infected woman to her newborn.
Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer and death.
The disease is endemic in China, partly because of the re-use of needles during mass vaccination programs beginning in the 1970s.
Public education is poor and many still believe the disease can be spread through casual contact. Small surprise then that discrimination is rampant – and has had devastating consequences.
In 2003 the nation was shocked when a young university graduate in Zhejiang province, Zhao Yichao, murdered a government human resources manager after Zhao was rejected for a civil servant's position because he was HBV positive.
Zhao's father had died as a young man and his mother was counting on her son to be the family's breadwinner. Rejected, he despaired.
He was found guilty and executed but his death sparked a growing awareness of the disease. By January 2005, the government passed regulations barring government departments from rejecting applicants on the basis of HBV infection.
"Still, today there are 20 different laws that contain articles that discriminate against hep B virus carriers," says Lu.
For example, people who carry the virus cannot work in food factories, water plants or pharmaceutical manufacturing, nor can they be teachers or bus conductors or shop assistants in department stores.
"You cannot find another Asian country which has such laws of discrimination against HBV carriers."
Lu and his non-governmental organization, the Beijing Yirenping Center, have helped organize or support 40 lawsuits on behalf of HBV carriers since 2003. Ten of the last 13 have succeeded.
Other human rights groups are concerned about the suspension of hbvhbv.com.
The arrival of the Olympics is making it hard on all non-governmental organizations, but especially those involved in human rights work, says Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch's Hong Kong office.
"The current climate is one in which China is trying to conceal any social problems in order to present a picture of unmitigated success and harmony," he says.
"People pointing to a defect in the public health system, or issues of discrimination," would rankle the government.
Commentary by the Ottawa Men's Centre in the Toronto Star
Amazing how Lu Jun can also start up a web site and speak so publicly. That might be dangerous in Canada. Canadians need to be aware that our Canadian Judiciary will “shut down” or “shoot down” anyone who might be “noise” or “an embarrassment”. Its probably worse than that alleged about China. Canadian Fathers have NO practical legal rights. Family Court Judges “get rid of fathers seeking access” by issuing draconian orders that rival any of china’s. Take “get out of town orders” (restraining orders) or “get out of Canada orders” (orders for child support without any evidence of any income combined with either orders for security for costs and or vexatious litigant orders) routinely issued to Canadian citizens who have the choice of indefinite repeated incarceration or voluntary deportation.
Posted by ottawamenscentre at 2:34 PM Friday, July 11 2008