[CHRB] Forced Psychiatric Detention Persists 2 Years After China Enacted Mental Health Law (5/8-14/2015)

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[CHRB] Forced Psychiatric Detention Persists 2 Years After China Enacted Mental Health Law (5/8-14/2015)

China Human Rights Briefing

May 8–14, 2015

Special Coverage on Torture

Two Years After China Enacted Mental Health Law, Forced Psychiatric Detention Goes On

Forced psychiatric commitment is still widespread two years after China enacted its first Mental Health Law, according to reports by groups in the CHRD network that have provided new evidence of the law’s lack of implementation. In particular, officials continue to punish individuals who challenge officials’ conduct or government policies by detaining them against their will in psychiatric hospitals. Since the Mental Health Law (MHL) went into effect on May 1, 2013, reports indicate that those seeking redresses for grievances against officials are the majority of people involuntarily detained in such facilities, where some government critics are also being locked up (see cases below). The reports thus show that a key finding in CHRD’s 2012 report on involuntary psychiatric detention—the prevalence of politically motivated forced commitment—has persisted even after the MHL came into force. (See also CHRD assessments of the law’s implementation six months after it came into force and in January 2015.)

Guangdong activist Ma Shengfen (马胜芬) in November 2014, just before she was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Guangdong activist Ma Shengfen (马胜芬) in November 2014, just before she was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Forced psychiatric commitment continues despite provisions in the Mental Health Law that require any diagnosis of mental illness to be made by registered doctors. The MHL also only allows for involuntary commitment of individuals diagnosed with “serious mental disorders” who have caused harm to, or are at risk of harming, themselves or others (Article 30). In criminal cases, the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL, Article 285) only permits a court to approve an involuntary commitment on the recommendation of a procuratorate, and does not allow public security bodies to act unilaterally. The UN Committee Against Torture has expressed serious concerns over reports that China has detained individuals in psychiatric facilities for reasons other than medical ones despite the passage of the MHL.

The reports from within CHRD’s network find that police lock up “troublemakers” and whistle-blowers in psychiatric hospitals around “sensitive” political periods, generally without any medical or legal basis. Such detentions increase drastically in February, March, and October, when major legislative meetings take place in Beijing. During these times, provincial authorities routinely try to “maintain stability” by blocking activists and petitioners from going to the capital to complain about corruption and abuses at local levels. With the abolition of the Re-education of Labor system, which became official in March 2014, authorities have found forced psychiatric confinement a convenient alternative for restricting the freedom of “troublesome” citizens. Many psychiatric facilities cooperate in these detentions, especially when they are under pressure from government officials.

Victims of involuntary commitment face a range of violations of their human rights and legal rights under the MHL and CPL, including arbitrary and illegal detention, beatings, having their legs and hands restrained, force-feeding, and forced drug injections. It is typical for them to be deprived of visitors, including family members and lawyers. Authorities often lay down specific conditions in order for a detainee to be released from a psychiatric institution, such as admitting to a mental illness, giving up petitioning or other activities, or not disclosing any mistreatment they suffered. Psychiatric facilities tend to deny family or lawyer’s requests to free detainees, and recognize police or other officials who order the detentions in the first place as the lone authorities who can approve releases.

Below are selected cases of involuntary psychiatric commitment that have taken place over the past six months or are ongoing:

  • As of early May 2015, Shen Jiajun (沈佳君) had been detained at the Shanghai Public Security Bureau Rehabilitation Hospital for over two months. He is the son of petitioner/activist Zhu Jindi (朱金娣). Zhu alleges the involuntary commitment of her son is an act of retaliation against her own efforts to expose the injustices they suffered when their home in Shanghai was forcibly demolished in 2008.
  • Beijing activist Zhang Wenhe (文和) has been involuntarily held for more than a year at the Beijing Changping District Mental Health Care Hospital. He told fellow activists who went to see him on March 31, 2015—the first time that he had been allowed visitors—that he had been forced to take medication, and that hospital staff had not responded to his requests to go home. This marks the fifth time that Zhang has been involuntarily committed without either his or his family’s consent.
  • On November 28, 2014, security personnel seized Hunan petitioner Huang Maifang (黄枚芳) as she returned from petitioning in Beijing and detained her at Xiangxiang City Psychiatric Hospital. Her supporters who found out about Huang’s situation went to the facility to demand her release. However, hospital staff said they needed confirmation from the government before Huang could be let go, and she was ultimately released only at the end of the year.
  • On November 10, 2014, petitioner Xie Meiying (梅英) from Guangxi Province was intercepted in Beijing, forcibly returned to her hometown of Laibin City, and locked up in the Laibin No. 2 People’s Hospital. While incarcerated, Xie reportedly was beaten, given injections, and forced to take medications. Xie was freed within several days, but only after supporters exposed her illegal detention online and called for her release.
  • On November 9, 2014, Guangdong activist Ma Shengfen (马胜) was taken by force to the Chenzhou Psychiatric Hospital after taking a train to Hunan Province, and subsequently released. She had previously served a 10-day administrative detention in June 2014 during the crackdown around the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. Ma was also active in advocacy campaigns involving a protest against media control in Guangzhou that took place in February 2013.
  • Political blogger Shi Genyuan (施根源) was forcibly committed to the mental health ward of the Quanzhou City No. 3 Hospital in Fujian Province in June 2014, after posting provocative political comments online. Nurses at the hospital said that despite Shi’s lack of consent to his detention, only Quanzhou national security officers could approve his release. After being threatened by officers, Shi’s family stopped actively seeking his release and did not allow his friends to retain a lawyer for Shi. He was eventually released in October 2014.
  • Heilongjiang petitioner Xing Shiku (世库) has been forcibly held since March 2007 in a psychiatric hospital in retaliation for filing complaints about official corruption. The doctors there have said that he does not suffer from any mental disorder. In May 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Xing’s detention is “arbitrary,” and that a proper remedy would be for him to be released and granted compensation for the harm he has suffered. Xing still remains detained, and Chinese authorities have not provided redress to him or his family.

CHRD calls on the Chinese government to immediately release all individuals from involuntary psychiatric commitment. Allegations of arbitrary detention and torture should be immediately and independently investigated, and state compensation should be properly provided. The government must hold the perpetrators accountable—including both government officials who order the detention and the psychiatric facility personnel who endorse unlawful detentions and engage in mistreatment. China’s Mental Health Law must be amended to incorporate clear provisions on punishment for those who engage in involuntary commitment and to provide recourse for those unlawfully detained. The government must take the necessary steps to supervise and monitor the implementation of the MHL, which is intended to protect human rights and eliminate abuses in mental health care.[1]


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @FrancesEveCHRD

Follow CHRD on Twitter: @CHRDnet


[1] “Continuing Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment Two Years After ‘Mental Health Law’ Took Effect”(消失不了的被精神病-《精神卫生法》实施两周年观察), May 11, 2015, Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch; “Shanghai Petitioner Zhu Jindi’s Son Unlawfully Detained and Mistreated at Shanghai Compulsory Health Center” (上海访民朱金娣儿子沈佳君被非法关押在上海市强制医疗所受折磨), May 10, 2015, Rights Defense Network.

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