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China 'waging psychiatric warfare against dissent'

Beijing is flouting mental health laws to silence, discredit activists, report by rights group says
Report says China's communist regime forcibly hospitalizes, medicates, and tortures activists and critics in psychiatric facilities to suppress dissent

Report says China's communist regime forcibly hospitalizes, medicates, and tortures activists and critics in psychiatric facilities to suppress dissent. (Photo: Safeguard Defenders)

Published: August 19, 2022 05:08 AM GMT
Updated: August 19, 2022 06:47 AM GMT

China’s communist regime has forcibly hospitalized, medicated, and tortured activists and critics in psychiatric facilities without medical justification to suppress dissent and political opposition over the past two decades, according to a rights group.

The Madrid-based Safeguard Defenders released the 75-page report “Drugged and Detained: China’s psychiatric prisons” on Aug. 16, which highlights the plight of 99 victims who were sent to mental institutions between 2015 to 2021.

The psychiatric tool is exploited to silence and discredit activists and suppress any future activism, says the report based on the analysis of data from the Chinese NGO Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (CRLW) posted online.

The Safeguard Defenders termed the data as just the “tip of the iceberg,” which investigates one of the most chilling ways the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses to disappear its critics — through forced hospitalization in a psychiatric facility without medical justification.

“Called Ankang, after the system of police-run psychiatric prisons launched in the 1980s, nowadays, most victims are locked up in regular psychiatric wards, meaning that doctors and hospitals collude with the CCP to subject victims to medically unnecessary involuntary hospitalizations and forced medication,” the report says.

The group noted this scourge continues despite China’s passing of a new Mental Health Law ten years ago that aimed in part at preventing this abuse, which means the law has not worked.

"Most of the victims were from socially powerless sections who cannot resist"

“Local police and government agents continue to routinely and widely practice the political abuse of psychiatry across China,” the report says.

“Police and government agents continue to act with impunity in sending human rights defenders, such as petitioners and activists, in large numbers to psychiatric prisons, sometimes for years,” the report says.

It noted that most of the victims were from socially powerless sections who cannot resist or voice concerns over such abuses.

“People who often struggle on the lowest rungs of the social ladder in China are thus powerless and easy targets,” the report read.

In two-thirds of cases the proper admittance procedures are not being observed indicating that “hospitals are colluding with the police,” the report states.

Nine victims have spent around ten or more years inside — one of whom was reported missing at the time of the release of the report.

"Detainees often face physical and mental abuse in facilities outside the purview of the judicial system"

About 66 percent of victims have been reported to have had no proper psychiatric evaluation before admission to such institutions. The report states that in 11 percent of cases family members have been coerced or cooperated with the police to institutionalize individuals.

However, the research report on the past seven years indicates widespread misuse of power and a complete failure of the law.

China’s Mental Health Law stipulates that compulsory treatment must be approved via medical assessment and revised its Criminal Procedure Law to give judicial oversight to police-enforced psychiatric commitment.

However, police and government agents continue to arbitrarily send petitioners and activists, to psychiatric commitment, both within the Ankang system and in general medical facilities.

The detainees often face physical and mental abuse in facilities outside the purview of the judicial system.

The victims are often left tied to a bed without food or water for hours left to urinate and defecate where they lie.

“I could not go to the toilet and had to defecate directly on the bed. As a result, the prolonged immersion of my buttocks in my feces made my skin ulcerate. It also caused injuries to my arms and legs,” said Yang Zhixiang, who was twice imprisoned.

Other prisoners have claimed that they had been subject to beatings, electroshock therapy, and solitary confinement.

Safeguard Defenders noted that the CCP uses “stability maintenance” — the harassment and detention of people the party deems challenges its power — as the key driver behind China’s widespread political abuse of psychiatry.

Victims have said that no one knows when they can be released from the psychiatric prisons.  

"The hardest part of being held in the psychiatric hospital is there is no release date … you could be there for 20 years or 30 years,” said activist Song Zaimin.

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