Former psychiatric patient Chen Guoming carrying out a protest in a Beijing park in July 2011 to raise awareness about China’s involuntary commitment system. Chen reenacted the experience of his family members binding him with tape and taking him against his will to a psychiatric hospital. The message on the ground reads “Anyone may be ‘made mentally ill’.”
DHARAMSHALA, August 23: Thousands of people including dissidents are locked up against their will in China’s psychiatric institutions, often as a form of punishment or political purposes, a new report said Wednesday.
released by Chinese Human Rights Defenders titled ‘The Darkest Corners: Abuses of Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment in China’ comes a month ahead of the United Nation’s first review of China's compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified in 2008.
Prepared after studying over 60 cases of individuals held in psychiatric hospitals and conducting 15 interviews with individuals who were previously detained in psychiatric hospitals, the report details the grim conditions and human rights abuses faced by these individuals.
The report finds that those locked up for alleged mental illnesses are frequently subjected to forced medical treatment, violence, and physical abuse such as electric shocks. Restricted from communicating with family members or lawyers, the study says patients stand little chance of legal redress.
“Those locked up for ‘mental illnesses’ are one of the most vulnerable groups in China,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “Not only are they deprived of their liberty on the basis of alleged disabilities; those who violate their rights also face little legal oversight or accountability.”
The report states that Chinese government officials often exploit the system to lock up activists, dissidents, and petitioners.
“Those who have the means — power and money — to either compel or pay psychiatric hospitals to detain individuals out of a desire to punish, silence, or simply get rid of them have been able to do so with impunity,” the report says.
“Although people who initiate a commitment usually allege that the prospective patient suffers from psychosocial disability, there are cases in which government officials bring a “patient” to a hospital, admit that the individual is not mentally ill, and the hospital commits them anyway.”
In one documented case, the report describes how human-rights lawyer Liu Shihui videotaped a nurse telling him that two petitioners whom he had come to visit in a psychiatric hospital could only be released if they agreed to stop petitioning the government.
At present, the report points out, there are no laws in China properly governing mental health. The Chinese national legislature's permanent Standing Committee is set to meet at the end of the month to discuss a draft mental health law that appears to codify the status quo, CHRD said, urging a rewrite.
“We urge the UN Committee to call on the Chinese government to take immediate steps to abolish the involuntary commitment of people with psychosocial disabilities,” CHRD said.
The rights group called on the Chinese government to abolish regulations authorising involuntary commitment, to monitor psychiatric hospitals to ensure that the human rights of patients are respected and to hold legally accountable those responsible for detaining individuals in psychiatric hospitals.