Forcibly hospitalised petitioner deemed ‘mentally ill’ finally declared well enough for jail

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Originally published by South China Morning Post on July 23, 2016

A petitioner who had been forcibly hospitalised in psychiatric hospitals was declared mentally fit before being sentenced and jailed for blackmailing government officials, ­according to mainland media.

Petitioner Xu Xue­ling, 53, was sentenced to four years in jail for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” earlier this month by a court in Taian, Shandong province, Shanghai news portal reported on Friday.

The mainland introduced a mental health law in 2013 that bans involuntary treatment for people deemed mentally ill. But rights group China Human Rights Defenders said in May that forced detention of petitioners in psychiatric facilities remained “a common form of retaliation and punishment” by the authorities, citing another rights group’s study that documented hundreds of cases of psychiatric detention against individuals whom police and other officials regard as “troublesome”.

Xu started petitioning 10 years ago after her sister was assaulted and no one was held responsible. While pressing her case, Xu was diagnosed as mentally ill and was sent to a psychiatric ward in 2008.

But Xu was declared mentally fit when she was placed under criminal detention last year. That evaluation cleared the way for her conviction this year.

Xu was found guilty of blackmailing government staff tasked with “stability maintenance”, in particular stopping petitioners from travelling to Beijing. The officials paid Xu 37,700 yuan (HK$44,000), the court said.

He lawyer, Zhang Shenggui, argued that the payment was approved by leaders in her town in return for Xu promising not to take her petition to Beijing.

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