Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have visited an outspoken rights activist who criticized President Xi Jinping on social media, threatening to send him for psychiatric treatment for his "mental illness," RFA has learned.
Lu Qianrong was visited in his home in Linshui township, Huoqiu county by a group of officials from the local government, as well as higher-ranking officials from nearby Changzhou city, he told RFA on Monday.
"They said [I] often post comments that are critical of the government online, and asked if I have mental health problems, and that they would get me checked out," Lu said. "They said the government would pay, to see if I have any psychiatric problems."
"I told them I don't have mental health problems, and [my troubles] were caused by their persecution of me," said Lu, who served a three-year term in a labor camp during the 1990s for blowing the whistle on official corruption.
"They said that they were 'worried about me', and that I should go and get a psychiatric evaluation only if I wanted to," he said.
Lu said the visit is likely linked to his recent online criticisms of President Xi Jinping, however.
"They told me I had said things I shouldn't, and that I shouldn't write disparaging things about my country online," he said. "I told them that, as a citizen, I have a duty to oversee the government and the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party."
China's medical profession has continued to collude with the authorities in carrying out psychiatric incarceration of critics of the government, the rights group Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch said in a recent report.
Rampant abuse of psychiatry
The practice of locking up those who challenge the government in mental institutions has become an endemic rights abuse in the country's legal system, and authorities have increasingly used the tactic against rights activists and dissidents as a way of imposing indefinite periods of detention on them without the need for a trial, the group said.
The Mental Health Law was aimed at protecting citizens from misdiagnosis and involuntary medical treatment in state-run psychiatric hospitals. But the use of such institutions to restrain activists and dissidents is still widespread, the Hubei-based group said in a 2017 report.
A few days after the visit, officials paid a call on Lu's wife at her workplace, asking her to agree to have her husband committed for psychiatric treatment, and even to divorce him, he said.
"They said your man is mentally ill, and you'd be better off putting him in a mental hospital," Lu said. "They also threatened my wife, saying that if I committed murder or arson, she would be the one who died, and that she'd regret it then."
"Anyone else would have divorced Lu Qianrong a long time ago, they told her."
Beijing-based rights activist Wang Lihong said the use of psychiatric diagnoses and enforced "treatment" is a common tactic employed by the authorities to control dissenting voices.
"They don't need to a trial, a notification of detention or anything like that to lock someone up in a mental hospital," Wang said. "They can do it whenever they like, and they send anyone whose mood isn't entirely positive to psychiatric hospitals, and then feed them various psychiatric medications."
"This really messes a person up, doing great mental and physical harm," he said.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.