'Mental Health Patients' in China Tortured: Report

china-wuhan-petitioners-feb-2014-305.jpg Activists in Wuhan, Hubei stage a protest against the practice of 'mentally-illing' petitioners, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch

Those who complained against the ruling Chinese Communist Party were force-fed medication, tied up, beaten and humiliated, and subjected to electroconvulsive shocks in mental hospitals last year, a new report shows.

The report by a Hubei-based rights group details a litany of abuses of the psychiatric system in a process known as "being mentally-illed" that have continued in spite of China's Mental Health Law, which came into effect in 2013.

The victims include activists who highlight human rights abuses in the country.  

"We heard of 40-50 cases during 2013, and [we] have set up a database of Chinese mental health patients," Liu Feiyue, report co-author and spokesman for the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, told RFA.

While the group's database will gather information on any abuses of mental health patients, it will focus specifically on those without prior mental illness who are forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions, either by officials or family members with whom they come into conflict.

"Citizens with no mental illness are being forced into mental institutions and injected with medication," Liu said. "This is cruel and inhumane."

"These cases represent extreme violations of the victims' human rights," he said.

He said that China's Mental Health Law hasn't yet been implemented on the ground.

"The abuses continue," Liu said. "Former victims have been re-committed, and new victims continue to be sent to mental hospitals."

Appeal lodged over lawsuit

The report came as a Beijing-based engineer lodged an appeal in a lawsuit she brought against the the Huilongguan Hospital in Changping for committing her on her parents' request without a diagnostic assessment.

Chen Dan, who had lived independently for many years, was sent to the hospital during a bitter dispute with her parents over her choice of partner.

She was later released after being examined by a psychiatrist, who said there was no reason for her to be there.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Chen Jihua, who represented Chen Dan during the initial lawsuit, said very few such cases against psychiatric hospitals were successful, however.

"It's hard for such cases even to get accepted by the courts," he said. "I came across a case like this in Harbin ... and the court just wouldn't accept it."

He said he had been approached recently by several people wanting to bring similar lawsuits.

"I didn't take them on, because they ... take up all your energy for six months and then they don't even get accepted," Chen said.

Case 'typical'

Meanwhile, Shenzhen-based public interest lawyer Huang Xuetao said Chen Dan's case was "typical" of others he had seen.

"It's very typical of cases in which the relatives try to interfere in a person's life," Huang said. "In China, this sort of interference can very serious indeed."

"From a legal point of view, it crosses the line into human rights violations, to make such cavalier use of psychiatric hospitals."

In China, when people with alleged mental health problems are forcibly brought to the hospital, hospital staff typically disregard their will and objections, rights groups say.

Family members, employers, police, or other state authorities are allowed without question to authorize both the admittance as well as the discharge of a committed patient.

Huang said the problem lies with a loophole in the Mental Health Law involving "guardianship" of vulnerable adults, powers often assumed by relatives or officials without the patient's consent.

"The guardianship system in China is a serious problem, because there hasn't yet been a clear legal definition or procedure around guardianship," she said.

"The person concerned has no right to appeal the decision to confer guardianship status."

She said once a person had been appointed guardian, they were expected to take on the task of representing the vulnerable adult legally, causing a conflict of interest in cases like Chen Dan's.

Reported by Qiao Long and Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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