[CHRB] Forced Psychiatric Commitment of Dissidents Continues as Police Act Above Enacted Law (4/29-5/5, 2016)

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[CHRB] Forced Psychiatric Commitment of Dissidents Continues as Police Act Above Enacted Law (4/29-5/5, 2016)

China Human Rights Briefing

April 29 – May 5, 2016

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Psychiatric Detention of Activists in China Persists 3 Years After Mental Health Law Went Into Effect

Forced commitment in psychiatric facilities remains a common form of retaliation and punishment by Chinese authorities against activists and government critics. The practice endures though it is apparently illegal, according to China’s first Mental Health Law, which was enacted three years ago, on May 1, 2013. Typically, government officials or police have sent petitioners, human rights activists, or critics of the government to psychiatric hospitals and ordered hospital officials to keep them there, authorizing hospitals to medicate them as they see fit, and discipline them for disobeying rules in the institutions, according to the group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch. The group has documented hundreds of cases of psychiatric detention against individuals who police and other officials regard as “troublesome.” In light of such reports, the three-year-old law clearly has not been effective in halting politically-motivated forced commitment and mistreatment in psychiatric institutions. CHRD has pointed out this serious issue of rights deprivations both before and since the passage of the Mental Health Law (MHL), including in a report on involuntary psychiatric detention.

With the select cases below, CHRD wishes to raise concerns about several petitioners and activists who have been detained in China’s psychiatric facilities over the past year (including some who remain detained today), highlighting the cruel and degrading treatment that they have reportedly faced.

  • Labor activist Xing Shiku (邢世) of Heilongjiang has been detained in a psychiatric institution in Harbin City for over nine years, since February 2007. Xing, 53, was seized after filing complaints about official corruption when the state-owned factory where he had worked was privatized. His family said that he has been mistreated at Daowai District Psychiatric Hospital, including being restrained with chains and struck in the head with electric pricks. His doctors reportedly told his family that Xing has never been diagnosed with any mental disorder, but that the hospital has not received permission from authorities to release him. In keeping Xing locked up, Chinese authorities are defying a opinion issued by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in May 2014, which called for Xing to be freed and properly compensated for his arbitrary detention and other forms of ill-treatment that he has endured.
  • Hunan petitioner Xia Funian (夏付年) has reportedly been held against his will in a psychiatric institution for over three years. Taken into police custody in December 2013, the 70-year-old Xia has been locked up at Weiyuan Psychiatric Hospital in Shaoyang City after doctors supposedly diagnosed him with a mental illness. However, officials have refused to provide any documentation of the psychiatric exam results. It is believed that Xia Funian has been detained in retaliation for pursuing a grievance over apparent improprieties by police investigators in Longhui County.
  • Wang Hedi (汪荷娣), a 71-year-old petitioner from Jiangsu Province, was involuntarily detained for a fifth time in a psychiatric hospital in Wuxi City, on January 23, 2016, and remained there for 10 days. (Repeated detentions of this type are not rare; another petitioner, Gu Xianghong (辜湘红) of Hunan, has reportedly been detained in psychiatric facilities 16 times since 1999, for seeking damages for abuses suffered as a victim of abduction, rape, and family-planning violence.) While locked up in the psychiatric ward of Wuxi Tongren International Rehabilitation Hospital, Wang was forcibly given oral medication and injections. When she refused to be medicated, Wang says that the doctors hit her on the head and mouth, and several individuals forced her to take the medicine. She said that she was restrained on her hospital bed and had no choice but to urinate on her sheets. Wang has indicated that she now suffers from hallucinations, allegedly due to a substance she was given at the hospital. According to information provided to CHRD, Wang has been held for a total of 74 days during five separate psychiatric detentions. Wang Hedi has long sought redress for personal grievances, including the forced demolition of her home, which occurred in 1996, and a traffic accident in 2012 that crippled her son.
  • Xu Dajin (许大金), a petitioner from Jiangxi Province, reportedly suffered damage to his sight and hearing after being injected with an unknown substance in a psychiatric hospital. In May 2015, police in Beijing took Xu into custody before sending him back to Jiangxi, where he was detained in Yiyang Psychiatric Hospital and forcibly medicated. More recently, Xu was locked up in a psychiatric hospital during the “Two Meetings” of China’s legislators this past March.
  • Petitioner Wang Shouan (王守安) of Hubei Province, 50, was held in two psychiatric institutions from November 17-24, 2015, after being taken into police custody in Beijing. He first was taken to Majiadu Township Welfare Hospital and then transferred to Zhushan County Psychiatric Hospital. While Wang was held only a brief period, doctors diagnosed him with “paranoid personality disorder”—a condition similar to, but not as severe as, schizophrenia—and recommended that he undergo psychiatric treatment. Wang was released after his wife and legal representative found him at the second hospital. Wang Shouan has been petitioning over what he considers an unjust prison sentence that he served in the mid-2000s and the forced demolition of his home.
  • Longtime Beijing-based dissident Zhang Wenhe (文和), 62, was forcibly institutionalized for over 20 months at the Beijing Changping District Mental Health Care Hospital before finally being released on November 24, 2015. He now has been involuntarily committed five times, and for a total of 33 months. He was blocked from having any visitors until March 2015, a year after he was first locked up. At that time, he told fellow activists he had been forced to take medication, and that hospital staff had not responded to his requests to go home. Zhang Wenhe has been involved in pro-democracy advocacy since the late 1970s, and also has taken part in Christian house church activities.


Xu Dajin of Jiangxi and Wang Hedi of Jiangsu are among many “troublesome” citizens who Chinese officials have put into psychiatric institutions as political retaliation, three years after the adoption of China’s Mental Health Law.

Xu Dajin of Jiangxi and Wang Hedi of Jiangsu are among many “troublesome” citizens who Chinese officials have put into psychiatric institutions as political retaliation, three years after the adoption of China’s Mental Health Law.

According to information obtained through interviews and grassroots reports, individuals forced into psychiatric commitments are subjected to a wide range of violations of their rights. Besides arbitrary and illegal detention, they are usually deprived of any visitors, including lawyers, and are shut off from seeking judicial review for their institutionalization. Detainees can also face myriad physical abuses, including beatings and forced injections of drugs that victims usually cannot identify. Hospital staff commonly use hand, leg, and body restraints to keep detainees immobile for as long as 10 days from the time they are committed, even if individuals do not pose an apparent threat to themselves or others. Electric shocks are also employed in punishments; for detainees who disobey orders of hospital staff, electricity is sometimes run in currents along their beds, or doctors administer electric pricks.

In China, the Mental Health Law stipulates that forced institutionalization be based on a mental illness diagnosis by a qualified physician, and only in very limited situations (see full Mental Health Law text: Chinese / English – unofficial translation). Specifically, the MHL allows for involuntary commitment only when someone is both diagnosed with “serious mental disorder” and has caused harm to, or is at risk of harming, themselves or others (Article 30). In criminal cases, the Criminal Procedure Law only permits a court to approve an involuntary commitment on the recommendation of a procuratorate, and does not allow government officials or public security police to act unilaterally to institutionalize anyone (CPL, Article 285).

In part, authorities have used psychiatric institutions to lock up and silence “troublesome” citizens—including petitioners, house church members, activists, and political dissenters—in order to fill a void left after the Re-education through Labor system was officially abolished in March 2014. Authorities exploit legal loopholes and abuse their power to seize citizens and have them institutionalized, ordering hospital staff to help carry out these illegal detentions. Psychiatric hospitals tend to yield the authority over granting releases to police or other officials who have ordered the detentions in the first place. In the largely state-run hospitals, doctors may even produce documentation that falsely shows an individual is suffering from mental illness. Such detentions usually increase when “maintaining stability” is a supreme government priority, like during major legislative sessions in Beijing in the spring and fall.

Securing the release for individuals who are forcibly institutionalized and, later, obtaining redress are daunting challenges. Authorities frequently lay down conditions for a detainee to be freed, such as admitting to a mental illness, giving up petitioning or rights advocacy, or not disclosing any mistreatment they suffered while being held against their will. Police and other officials often try to block forcibly committed detainees from hiring lawyers or file lawsuits with the courts. Courts rarely agree to hear lawsuits brought by victims of forced psychiatric confinement, and compensation of any kind is not guaranteed even if a court orders it. Amounts of awarded compensation tend to fall far short of what should be provided under Chinese law, and payments are known to be delayed or not given at all, since perpetrators of illegal psychiatric detentions often appeal the decisions, putting victims in legal limbo.

Involuntary psychiatric detention has persisted in China despite UN human rights bodies’ concerns about the practice and their recommendations to eradicate it. The Committee against Torture (CAT) raised concerns that such detention breaches the Convention against Torture (Articles 2, 11, and 16) in its November 2015 review of the Chinese government’s compliance with the Convention. CAT noted that “compulsory psychiatric institutionalization” has been “allegedly used to detain [criminal] suspects without accountability,” and that “local police impose such measures without any judicial process.” CAT further stated that the Chinese government has not responded with clarity to inquiries about forced psychiatric commitment, including whether violations of detainees’ rights have been investigated, if such detentions have ended, and whether victims have obtained redress (Concluding Observations, paras. 42, 55).

CHRD calls on the Chinese government to immediately release all individuals from involuntary psychiatric commitment. The government must allow independent investigation of allegations of arbitrary detention and torture in psychiatric institutions by facilitating visits by UN human rights experts and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Victims should be allowed to seek state compensation under the State Compensation Law. Authorities must not block them from access to the justice, and holding perpetrators of involuntary psychiatric detention accountable, including both officials who order detentions and the psychiatric facility personnel who acquiesce to unlawful detentions and engage in mistreatment. The Mental Health Law must be revised to incorporate clear provisions on punishment for those who engage in involuntary commitment and to provide recourse for those unlawfully detained.


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Researcher (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

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