HONG KONG—A Chinese rights group is campaigning for the release of petitioners—ordinary Chinese who complain about alleged official wrongdoing—from psychiatric hospitals, where they are routinely detained and given forcible "treatment," including electric shock, in a bid to silence them.
"We are starting this campaign to investigate the cases of petitioners who have been 'psychiatrized,'" said rights activist Xiao Yong, speaking from inside a psychiatric ward at a hospital in Xiangtan, in central China's Hunan province.
Xiao, who works for the Hubei-based rights group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, said he was visiting petitioner Gu Xianghong.
"[She] was subjected to official abuse over family planning issues," Xiao said. "She has been trying to complain about her treatment through official channels since 1992."
He said she had been repeatedly locked up in the Xiangtan No. 5 Hospital.
In a video testimony recorded by Xiao and fellow activist Zheng Chuangtian, Gu, speaking with some difficulty, said she had been given electric shock therapy and injections against her will.
"They won't let me out ... I can't get any clear answers out of them," she said.
But she appeared lucid when asked why she was there at all.
"My [entire family] and home have been ruined by the village government because I sued them ... They put me in here out of revenge, and forced me to have injections," she said.
"They put electrodes on my temples, and they were burned black," she said in the video. "They handcuffed me and chained my feet."
Officials waiting by the exit
In an undated video still, petitioner Gu Xianghong describes being abused at a mental hospital in Xiangtan.
Xiao said he and Zheng were locked up while in the hospital by doctors, and later released, only to run into a group of officials from the local government complaints office waiting by the exit.
"We had just got to the main entrance of the hospital when some people from the complaints office appeared," Xiao said.
"They didn't immediately realize who we were, so we grabbed a taxi and got inside. Then they started to chase us," he said.
Gu's mother, Xu Meijiao, was detained by officials, he added. Calls to Xu's mobile phone went unanswered on Tuesday.
An employee who answered the phone at the Xiangtan No. 5 Hospital denied that Gu was a patient there.
"No there isn't [a patient by that name]," the employee said. Asked if petitioners were being detained at the hospital, the employee said, "I don't know."
Liu Feiyue, who heads the campaign, said his group hoped to bring the plight of petitioners in mental hospitals to the attention of the wider public.
"The campaign is called 'Mental Hospitals SOS,'" Liu said. "We are hoping to use these methods to spark more concern in society over this phenomenon of psychiatric abuse in China."
He said Chinese rights activists, including petitioners, were now being victimized by local officials to a greater extent.
"All we did in the case of Gu Xianghong was ask her to tell her story," Liu said. "As soon as she goes to the local government, or to Beijing [to complain], they shove her into a psychiatric hospital."
Liu said Gu had been incarcerated in the mental hospital nine times since she began petitioning against the authorities.Keeping them locked up
In an Oct. 10 report on the legality of admissions to psychiatric facilities in China, Shenzhen-based rights lawyer Huang Xuetao wrote that in the majority of cases where people were committed to mental hospitals when they had no mental illness, there was a clear interest in keeping them locked up.
The hospitals accepted such patients because they earned them money, Huang said.
"The level of tacit consent [to such practices] in the psychiatric profession continues to expand, to a terrifying degree," Huang wrote in his report.
Chinese psychiatric hospitals face mounting pressure to accept “patients” with no demonstrable mental illness from government officials keen to find ways to silence people who complain about them, doctors and lawyers say.
In a well-publicized case earlier this year, authorities in the central province of Henan announced they would sack five local officials after they sent 59-year-old petitioner Xu Lindong to a mental institution based on forged documents.
Xu, held in Henan's Luohe City Psychiatric Hospital against his will for a total of 6-1/2 years, was placed in physical restraints 50 times, and tortured with electric batons 55 times, according to official media reports.
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.Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.