In mainland China, the term “to be made mentally-ill” has become a popular phrase among netizens.
It actually refers to the notorious act of some government departments to forcibly send people into mental hospitals in order to silence them.
The reason is simple: once these “troublesome” people are declared “insane”, their accusations of injustice against the authorities would no longer constitute a legitimate case because they are only “crazy” people saying “crazy” things.
But many of those who have been declared “mentally-ill” and forcibly sent to mental hospitals aren’t actually political dissidents as some people might have expected.
Rather, the vast majority of them are “petitioners” from across the country, who have streamed into Beijing to seek justice by appealing to the central government over issues ranging from illegal land seizures by their provincial authorities or unpaid wages.
In recent years, several high-profile cases involving these “insane” people have grabbed headlines in the mainland and drawn widespread public attention.
For example, in October 2003, a peasant from Henan province named Xu Lindong, who was petitioning against unfair treatment by local authorities on behalf of his neighbor, was forcibly sent to a local psychiatric asylum, where he was forced to undergo electroshock therapy 55 times.
It wasn’t until 2010 when his story was reported by China Youth Daily that his ordeal finally came to light, and thanks to extensive media coverage, he was eventually allowed to go home.
Another case involved a civilian from Hubei province named Peng Baoquan. All he did was take pictures of petitioners and then upload them onto the internet.
In April 2010, however, law enforcement officers grabbed and forcibly sent him to a local mental institution without his family members even noticing.
Then there was also another peasant from Henan province named Wu Chunxia, who was petitioning the municipal government of Zhoukou city to arbitrate in her dispute over “family and village affairs”. Local authorities remanded her into custody at a mental asylum for 132 days.
Their stories are only the tip of the iceberg, as tens of thousands of other rights activists and petitioners who bear legitimate grievances against the authorities are being locked up at mental hospitals every year.
Many of these people who weren’t insane at first have either become real mental patients after months or even years of relentless psychological torture during their stay at the hospital or have come down with permanent mental trauma after they were discharged.
In many cases, it is entirely up to the local authorities to decide who should be sent to mental hospitals for “mandatory treatment” and how long these people are going to stay there.
Many of these “patients” hadn’t even undergone any proper examination or assessment by qualified psychiatrists before they were declared “insane” by the authorities and then put away.
Worse still, their family members aren’t even allowed to intervene or appeal against the decision to confine their loved ones in mental hospitals.
Having noticed the magnitude of the issue and its possible repercussions, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) recently issued a set of guidelines on the matter with a view to preventing local authorities from forcibly sending healthy people to mental hospitals.
Under the new guidelines, SPP investigators are given the power to meet with victims who were forcibly sent to mental institutions to find out their true mental health conditions.
Investigators are also authorized to consult their doctors, members of their immediate family, their neighbors and their legal representatives about whether they are truly mentally ill or not.
If necessary, investigators can also appoint legally qualified professionals or institutions to authenticate the mental health conditions of these people and look into their cases thoroughly.
The guidelines are also intended to crack down on rich and powerful people who are faking mental illness in an attempt to avoid legal liabilities.
If the new guidelines are carried out faithfully, perhaps it could truly reduce cases of miscarriage of justice in the mainland in a substantial manner.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 2
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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