Parents sue QQ over son's death

08:22, October 25, 2010      

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The parents of a boy who killed himself in a suicide pact arranged over China's most popular instant messaging service, QQ, are suing its owner, Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings Ltd, in Zhejiang province, Qianjiang Evening News reported over the weekend.

The trial, which began on Thursday in a district court in Lishui, Zhejiang province, has provoked concerns over what sort of liability or accountability Internet service providers have in preventing suicides.

The parents of the boy surnamed Fan have blamed Tencent for failing to exercise effective control over the use of harmful words. Also named in the lawsuit is a man surnamed Zhang, who is accused of inducing the son to commit suicide together, then deciding not to, and not trying to prevent the son's death.

According to the Qianjiang Evening News, this June, Fan, a 20-year-old Shanghai university freshman, responded to a suggestion to commit suicide made by 22-year-old university student Zhang in Lishui through QQ.

The morning of June 22, Fan went to Lishui and met Zhang at the railway station. They then bought some charcoal, alcohol, a brazier and some beer and took them to a hotel room where they locked themselves inside, closed the windows, put a strip of adhesive tape under the hotel room door and lit the charcoal in an attempt to kill themselves by inhaling carbon monoxide.

Zhang, however, got a headache after inhaling the carbon monoxide and left the hotel room at about 5 pm, but Fan insisted on remaining in the room.

At 7:08 pm, Zhang received a final text message from Fan's mobile phone, asking him to bring more charcoal and alcohol, but Zhang ignored it.

At about 10:50 pm, Zhang called the hotel's reception desk to tell them about the pair's plan and when staff went to check they found Fan dead, the report said.

Fan's parents claimed that Zhang asked Fan to commit suicide, while Tencent did not delete or block information about suicide pacts, so it was further disseminated online. Therefore, both were responsible for their son's death. They asked for 279,028 yuan ($41,900) in compensation.

Tencent maintained that it was not liable for Fan's death. Their lawyers said the company had more than 500 million users who send an immense amount of online information every day. Moreover, QQ is an individual communication tool, which is almost impossible to monitor or supervise.

They also said that use of the word "suicide" is not illegal and that screening out such words might infringe on user rights.

Fan's family said they had not heard of any similar case being handled and thought they had little chance of winning it, but they insisted on going ahead with the case to raise public awareness of the danger of possible suicide pacts being arranged online.

Nonetheless, Fan's death was not an isolated incident. In March 2010, two young men, both 24, killed themselves in a hotel in Lishui after planning the suicide online via a chat group.

In May 2010, three other young men in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, planned to commit suicide together online, via an instant messaging service. Two of them died as a result.

As of Sunday, no verdict had been reached in Fan's trial.

Source:China Daily


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