Caixin
POLITICS & LAW

Court Sides With Lawyer Sued for Criticizing ‘Medicinal’ Liquor-Maker

The website of Hongmao Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. is seen on April 17. Photo: IC
The website of Hongmao Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. is seen on April 17. Photo: IC

A Shanghai court has sided with a lawyer whom a well-known manufacturer of medicinal liquor had accused of defamation, months after a Guangdong-based doctor was detained for 100 days for criticizing the same company.

Shanghai lawyer Cheng Yuan is not guilty of damaging Hongmao Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.’s reputation, the court in the city’s Minhang district determined recently, Caixin has learned.

In March, Cheng, who practices at the Shanghai office of the Beijing-based W&H Law Firm, wrote in an online post that authorities had accused Hongmao over 2,600 times of using false claims to advertise its medicinal liquor. Cheng also cast doubt on state broadcaster CCTV’s endorsement of the brand, and pointed out ways in which the health claims Hongmao made in its advertisements contravened China’s advertising regulations.

Hongmao Medicinal Liquor is one of a number of formulations marketed as traditional health supplements in China, and its makers have claimed that the substance cures a range of ailments as diverse as irregular menstruation and heart disease. Traditional cures like Hongmao Medicinal Liquor have long attracted criticism from those who argue that their effectiveness is unproven, but they remain popular and available at many Chinese pharmacies.

Hongmao sued Cheng in response to his post, arguing Cheng had damaged its brand, and demanded that Cheng delete the post and compensate the company.

However, the Minhang court dismissed all of Hongmao’s claims in its recent decision, saying that Hongmao, “as a well-known enterprise, should have higher tolerance for public comment and supervision.”

The court also held that Cheng had used Hongmao as an example to argue ultimately for improved protection of consumer rights, and that the court should protect Cheng’s right to speak in defense of the public interest.

The dispute between Hongmao and Cheng echoes that of the case of Guangzhou doctor Tan Qindong, whose 100-day detention for criticizing Hongmao’s health claims attracted strong criticism of the law enforcement agencies involved. But Tan’s legal tussle with Hongmao ended somewhat differently.

Police from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, where Hongmao Pharmaceutical is based, arrested and detained Tan in January after he published a blog post calling Hongmao Medicinal Liquor “poison from heaven.” Tan was released on bail in April after news of his detention leaked, drawing anger from state media and social media users alike at what appeared to be an abuse of power by Inner Mongolia police.

After his release, Tan was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by doctors in Guangzhou. On May 17, he issued an apology to Hongmao Pharmaceutical, which accepted the apology and dropped its case against Tan.

Contact reporter Teng Jing Xuan (jingxuanteng@caixin.com)

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