Despite protections promised by a Mental Health Law passed by China in 2013, the country's medical profession has continued to collude with the authorities in carrying out psychiatric incarceration of critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, a rights group has said in a recent report.
The Mental Health Law was aimed at protecting mental health service users from misdiagnosis and involuntary medical treatment in China's state-run psychiatric hospitals.
But the practice of enforced psychiatric treatment for rights activists and persistent petitioners continued throughout 2015, the Hubei-based China Rights Observer group said in its annual report.
"The original intention when the government passed the Mental Health Law was to limit the phenomenon of being 'mentally illed,'" China Rights Observer founder and report author Liu Feiyue told RFA in a recent interview.
"But our observations have shown that this continues to happen, even to previous victims of psychiatric incarceration."
"This is because they already have a psychiatric case history, and that makes it easy for the authorities just pack them off to the mental institution on politically sensitive dates, like the annual parliamentary sessions," Liu said. "This started to happen more and more last year."
On Thursday, Shanghai petitioner Lu Liming told RFA he had been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in Beijing after being detained by police.
"I have no mental illness; I am normal ... and yet I was tied to a bed in the Changping Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine for two days and two nights," Lu said on his release.
"They also forced me to take a lot of medication while I was tied up there, so miserable I wanted to die," he said. "I am still in pain, and my head is still swollen from their beatings."
Lu said he plans to sue the police and the hospital over his treatment there.
The China Rights Observer's Liu said Lu's ordeal began after he was detained while on a petitioning trip to Beijing by "interceptors" hired by the Shanghai authorities to stop complaints being made to central government.
"He was petitioning, and he was intercepted and taken to the Changping [hospital]," Liu said. "A lot of petitioners get sent to that hospital for so-called treatment."
He said 2015 saw a number of additional cases of forcible psychiatric treatment for political reasons, in spite of the 2013 law aimed at protecting citizens from abuses.
"For example, there was Wang Shiwen, from Shiyan in Hubei province, who was locked up in a psychiatric hospital for petitioning in Beijing and with the provincial government," Liu said.
"Our report concludes that the practice of psychiatry is politicized by the fact that there are no curbs on government power, and so they can easily suppress people who are angry with them by using psychiatric hospitals."
"This is all part of the government's stability maintenance system, which is getting tighter and tighter ... because they fear anything that could threaten their grip on power, including petitioners," Liu said.
"Using psychiatric incarceration is only one of the weapons in their arsenal," he said.
The group's website reported on more than 30 cases of activists around China who were forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions in 2015, often without their relatives' knowledge or consent.
Activists and petitioners "under treatment" have been detained, tied up, beaten, forced to wear manacles and leg irons, and forcibly fed psychoactive drugs, as well as denied access to the outside and to visits from their friends and family.
Hospitals often refuse to discharge such "patients" without the agreement of law enforcement agencies, and inmates are sometimes forced to sign "guarantees" that they will drop all further action against the government before being released.
Shanghai petitioner Zhu Jindi said her grown son was taken into a psychiatric hospital on Feb. 27, 2014 after getting into a dispute with another person, in spite of having had no history of mental illness.
She said the authorities had taken the action as a form of revenge against her petitioning activities.
"They locked my son up in the detention center for 51 days, and we didn't know he was in there, until the court ruled he should be committed for psychiatric treatment on April 17," Zhu said.
"Inside there, they put him on the tiger bench [torture chair] from morning till night," she said. "He was also manacled, and he was tied hand and foot in restraints to his bed, to urinate and defecate on himself."
"It was evil," she said.
The "tiger bench" was among a number of torture methods reported by Chinese detainees and highlighted by rights groups testifying to the U.N. Committee Against Torture last year during its review of Beijing's record last year.
The committee concluded that torture and other human rights violations are deeply entrenched in China's justice system, and called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to abolish inhuman treatment of detainees.
Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.