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LGBT dating app suspended in China, ahead of fresh internet crackdown

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Rela – a hugely popular dating app for gay women – has been abruptly suspended, leaving users to speculate about the reasons for its removal.

The app was set up in 2012 to help gay women connect with each other within the LGBT+ community in China and had approximately five million registered users at the time of its removal.

It is no longer available in the Google or Apple stores and its web site and main social media account have been shut down. According to its WeChat account, the service has been suspended due to an “important adjustment in service” and would return, although no further details are available.

Last week, users noticed that Rela’s main social media (Weibo) account and website were no longer accessible and posted on social media with the hashtag #relahasbeenblocked. They complained that they felt “jilted” by the app’s removal and that the removal was “discrimination against us lesbians”.

Some users speculate that the app has been blocked by China’s strict internet content censors, after Rela’s role in organising a small LGBT+ awareness event.

At a “marriage market” in People’s Park, Shanghai – where the parents of single adult children congregate to try to find a match for their children – 11 parents of gay men and women peacefully joined the gathering. They were forced to leave by security.

Homosexuality is not illegal in mainland China, but attitudes remain conservative. Until 2001, homosexuality was categorised as a mental illness. In comparison, the highest court in Taiwan recently ruled in favour of amending laws to legalise same-sex marriage within two years.

In April of this year, Zank – a Chinese dating app primarily used by gay and bisexual men – was shut down. Zank announced on its extant Weibo account that the Cyberspace Administration of China had accused it of broadcasting pornographic content.

Previously, the Chinese government has not hesitated to block web sites and apps that could be perceived as threatening to strict Communist Party rule, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and Instagram.

On June 1 2017, China will adopt a new cyber-security law which will likely lead to a further tightening of internet censorship. The law – which promises to protect data privacy – will hide Chinese data from foreign organisations and governments by storing data belonging to Chinese citizens and businesses on Chinese servers. Companies will have to undergo a national security review before transferring data abroad.

Critics have warned that this could allow Beijing to steal data from foreign companies and could have a serious impact on multinational companies operating in China.

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