China Holds Blogger, Rights Activist in Psychiatric Hospitals

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on September 18, 2014.

A Chinese blogger and a rights activist are being held in mental institutions, rights groups and activists say, sparking fears for their well-being.

Authorities in the southeastern province of Fujian detained outspoken blogger Shi Genyuan at his home on June 3 and forcibly committed him to the mental health ward of the Quanzhou No. 3 Hospital, according to the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website.

Shi’s committal means that only Quanzhou state security police have the power to release him from the facility, although nurses there said he didn’t consent to his detention there.

A campaign by Shi’s family and friends for his release has come to nothing in the face of threats from Quanzhou state security police, the group said.

Shi is being held on the basis of a “psychiatric evaluation” carried out by police in August 2013, after he was held on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power” the previous May, it said.

“They are using mental illness as an excuse to detain him,” Shi’s friend, who gave only his surname Pan, told RFA.

He said nobody believes that Shi is suffering from a genuine mental illness.

“Mental health patients have normally lost at least some of their capacity to function in society,” Pan said. “But his notes say he wants to appeal.”

“Perhaps he wants to appeal against being labeled a mental health patient?”

‘A form of reprisal’

Meanwhile, it has emerged that authorities in Beijing have been holding veteran pro-democracy activist Song Zaimin at the Pinggu Psychiatric Hospital, since he “disappeared” on Aug. 27, activists said.

“We have received reliable information in the past couple of days saying that that [Song] is being held in a mental institution,” Beijing-based fellow activist Hou Xin told RFA.

“I am very worried about his situation. I never thought they would use a psychiatric hospital to detain him,” Hou said.

He said Song’s friends and family are getting together to campaign for his release.

“We want to see if we can get lawyers involved, because people don’t get released from psychiatric hospitals quickly,” he said.

According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, Song was detained after taking part in activities marking the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

The overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group, which collates and translates reports from a number of Chinese rights groups, said both Song’s and Shi’s detentions are illegal.

“Their detentions constitute a deprivation of liberty that directly violates China’s Mental Health Law, which went into effect in May 2013,” the group said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.

“The law has not stopped the use of involuntary psychiatric commitment as a form of reprisal against members of civil society,” it said.

Litany of abuses

Aimed at protecting mental health service users from misdiagnosis and involuntary medical treatment in China’s state-run psychiatric hospitals, the mental health law is the first in the country to define the concept and procedures linked to compulsory committal.

Chinese people who lodge complaints about or criticize the ruling Chinese Communist Party have been force-fed medication, tied up, beaten and humiliated, and subjected to electroconvulsive shocks in mental hospitals last year, according to a February report by the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch group.

The report focused on those without prior mental illness who are forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions, either by officials or family members with whom they come into conflict.

It detailed a litany of abuses of the psychiatric system in a process known as “being mentally-illed” that have continued in spite of the new law.

The victims of the system, which often makes use of a nationwide network of police-run hospitals, include activists who highlight human rights abuses.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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