HONG KONG—Chinese dissident He Jian, a signatory to the Charter 08 petition calling for broad political and democratic reforms, has been confined to a Shanghai mental hospital, according to knowledgeable sources.
He frequently circumvented China’s so-called Great Firewall software to outmaneuver China’s aggressive online censorship, posting articles on Twitter and other overseas Web sites in support of Charter 08 and its drafter, Liu Xiaobo.
Liu was sentenced in December to 11 years’ imprisonment for initiating the manifesto.
Police in Shanghai’s Putuo district detained He at the Putuo Psychiatric Health Center “two or three days ago,” sources said Tuesday.
An officer contacted by phone at the Putuo Police Station declined to comment, saying he wasn’t “involved in particular cases.”
But an official at the Putuo Psychiatric Health Center confirmed that He had been confined there.
“Mr. He Jian is now in the hospital,” one staff member said, “on Psychiatric Ward No. 3.”
A nurse on the ward said he was in bed no. 48, but added, “You have to talk to the chief duty doctor to know more about him.”
“He was sent in by police … two or three days ago,” she said.
Calls to He’s mother, Zhang Xiaoyun, rang unanswered Tuesday.
Last post on Twitter
He had posted online that, for signing Charter 08, he has received death threats from Shanghai authorities and been held in a “black jail” or illegal detention center.
Plainclothes police also beat his mother, he wrote.
His last known communication was a Twitter posting on Jan. 26, in which he disclosed that a local police officer had phoned his mother to ask that he report to police the following day.
He hasn’t been seen since, friends say.
He Yongquan, a Shanghai rights activist, said Tuesday that Shanghai is now seeing a harsh crackdown on dissidents.
Charter 08 demands a new Chinese constitution guaranteeing human rights, the open election of public officials, and freedom of religion and expression.
Some 10,000 people signed the charter over the last year, although government censorship has left most Chinese unaware that it exists. Inside China, more than 300 people, including some of the country's top intellectuals, have signed it.
Chinese authorities have long made use of in-patient psychiatric wards to confine their critics, including dissidents as well as petitioners, who travel to the capital seeking redress for grievances against local authorities and other powerful figures.
A 2009 book published online, Psychosis: the Social Disorder of China’s Mental Disease, reported that Chinese citizens trying to pursue complaints against authorities can find themselves confined in mental hospitals where they are forcibly medicated and subjected to electric shock.
The book, which covers 57 such cases, was written in Chinese by Liu Feiyue of the rights group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch.
Its allegations echo those made in interviews by petitioners seeking redress from the government who have been held and released—as well as by several officials.
In a highly unusual news item also in 2009, a state-owned Chinese newspaper, New Beijing News, reported that a 57-year-old man was twice forcibly committed to the Xintai Psychiatric Hospital in Beijing after trying for years to obtain compensation for houses and farmland lost to the coal-mining industry in his village.
A landmark 2002 report, Dangerous Minds, prepared by Human Rights Watch and the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, said that "since the earliest years of the People's Republic [of China], political dissenters, religious nonconformists, whistle-blowers, and other dissenting citizens have consistently been viewed by the Communist Party of China as posing a major political threat to society."
Such people are often "forcibly committed to various types of psychiatric institutions," the report said.
In a measure of its annoyance with Charter 08 and those who signed it, China's Foreign Ministry warned on Tuesday against giving a Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo.
"If the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to such a person, it is obvious that it is totally wrong," a spokesman said.
PEN American Center president Kwame Anthony Appiah last week sent a nomination for Liu to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, noting his "distinguished and principled leadership in the area of human and political rights and freedom of expression.”
Report by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.