[CHRB] Six Months after Mental Health Law Took Effect, Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment Continues (11/8-13, 2013)

China Human Rights Briefing

November 8 – 13, 2013

Special Edition

China’s first Mental Health Law took effect on May 1, 2013 with the aim to regulate the mental health industry. One of the most significant provisions in the law is that psychiatric commitment must be voluntary, thus only a certified psychiatrist would have the authority to commit a person suffering from mental illness. However, in spite of some loopholes for involuntary commitment, the main legal provisions have not been fully implemented in the six months since this law has been in effect. Local authorities continue to detain activists and petitioners in mental institutions. The government has maintained certain policies that violate the new law. According to official criteria for assessing performance of local governments, issued by the Ministry of Health on July 6, 2012, local governments must institutionalize a set quota of people with “severe mental illnesses.” Based on the criteria set by the central government, officials in Zhengzhou issued its own quota at no less than 0.2% of the population in September 2012, which is said to be lower than the quota set by the Ministry of Health. This standard has continued to be enforced today pressuring local authorities to meet the quota.[1] It means that local jurisdictions must “find” two out of every one thousand people as “having serious mental illnesses.” The quota provides incentives for police to send to psychiatric institutions anyone whom they consider “disrupting order” or “creating trouble.” Mental health doctors may succumb to pressure from local authorities by admitting such detainees, but some doctors have resisted this coercion by refusing to admit them. This special issue of CHRB looks at the continued use by Chinese authorities of involuntary psychiatric commitment as a retaliatory measure for petitioners and activists, highlighting selected cases of abuse.

Contents

  • Victim of Torture at Psychiatric Facilities: Fan Miaozhen (范妙珍)
  • Prolonged Detention in Psychiatric Hospital: Xing Shiku (邢世库)
  • Several Cases of Forced Psychiatric Commitment by Police
  • Police continue to ignore the law: Xia Peiqin (夏培勤) and Wang Zhifeng (王志锋)

Victim of Torture at Psychiatric Facilities: Fan Miaozhen (范妙珍)

Local village representatives and police officials forcibly committed Fan Miaozhen for a third time to Shanghai Municipal Chongming County Psychiatric Center on October 17, 2013 in retaliation for her activism. The admission doctor did not perform a mental health evaluation, and the village leader signed the admission forms as her guardian, in violation of the law. When family and friends rescued her from the center two days later, the 71-year-old Fan recounted that she was fed pills, which made her sleep most of the time, and she was not allowed outdoors for fresh air. This treatment, however, was not as abusive as her first involuntary commitment in December 2010, when she was detained for 56 days. During this period, Fan was subjected to torture — staff covered her head and stuffed paper in her mouth before electroshocking her — when she refused to take medication. Local authorities targeted Fan Miaozhen after she helped fellow villagers defend their land rights. Fan filed a suit against local authorities, but lost her case in court.[2]

Shanghai-based 71-year-old activist Fan Miaozhen (范妙珍) was committed to psychiatric facilities three times against her will.

Shanghai-based 71-year-old activist Fan Miaozhen (范妙珍) was committed to psychiatric facilities three times against her will.

Prolonged Detention in Psychiatric Hospital: Xing Shiku (邢世库)

Xing Shiku of Heilongjiang Province is a petitioner who has been forcibly held for over six years in a psychiatric hospital in Harbin City on the order of local authorities. CHRD has sent a letter to the UN alleging arbitrary detention and torture on behalf of the 51-year-old Xing, who was detained in early 2007 in retaliation for complaining about corruption and violation of labor rights. In an interview, Xing detailed some of the abuse he has suffered, including being tied up in chains, and having hospital staff administer electric shocks to his head. In addition, he has lost some mobility and suffered from other illnesses due to years-long detention and torture. Doctors at the facility have confirmed that he does not suffer from any psychiatric disorder, but only local officials, who committed him to the institution and assumed guardianship, can order his release.

Several Cases of Forced Psychiatric Commitment by Police

In Liaoning Province, police committed Zhang Haiyan (张海彦) against his will at the psychiatric unit of Fengcheng City Fourth Hospital after he was in custody for 42 days for “disrupting public order.” Local policemen seized Zhang on August 31, 2013 and detained him on a criminal charge. Almost a month later, police took Zhang to a psychiatric hospital to evaluate his mental fitness and subsequently committed him on October 11 without producing any medical documents to support their decision. Zhang was released after approximately twenty days when his family finally located him, and only after he signed a letter promising he would not express critical views online, conduct “abnormal petition activities,” or participate in any gatherings. During his psychiatric commitment, Zhang said staff at the unit tied him to his bed and forced him to swallow pills that made him sleepy. The petitioner had been suffering from tuberculosis and his health deteriorated during detention.[3]

Petitioner Wang Shuying (王树英) was involuntarily detained at Xiaonan City Psychiatric Hospital in Hubei Province on June 21, 2013 and held for two days. She was picked up by police while petitioning outside the Xiaonan government offices and taken to the hospital where doctors admitted her under pressure from authorities, despite knowing that it was illegal as she was not mentally ill. She was, however, not given medication while detained.[4]

Gu Xianghong (辜湘红), a petitioner from Hunan Province, was detained in Beijing on July 26, 2013 and sent to Beijing Changping District One Hospital where she was held until September 9. Gu Xianghong has been repeatedly involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities, but the immediate circumstances of this incident were not clear.[5]

Police continue to ignore the law: Xia Peiqin (夏培勤) and Wang Zhifeng (王志锋)

Police attempted to have Xia Peiqin, a 70-year old petitioner from Anhui Province, committed to a psychiatric hospital but failed after doctors refused to admit her. Having previously detained Xia in a Re-education Through Labor camp in 2012, police officers took her to Anqing City Psychiatric Hospital for a mental evaluation on June 26, 2013. A hospital staff examined Xia and stated that she was not mentally ill, thus unable to have her committed.[6]  In a similar case in Hangzhou, the Qinghe Middle School branded its former physical education teacher Wang Zhifeng as “mentally ill” after he exposed corruption at his school. Several police officers attempted to have him committed to Ankang Hospital on October 15, 2013. Doctors there examined him and said he did not have a mental illness, and his wife refused to sign him over to the institution.[7]

Last fall, CHRD sent an urgent appeal to the UN about seven other petitioners who have been involuntary committed. In August 2012, CHRD released a report that provided more individual cases and analyzed involuntary psychiatric commitment in practice and law in China, and submitted it to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) for a review of China’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. CRPD concluded in September 2012 that “For those involuntarily committed persons with actual or perceived intellectual and psychosocial impairments, the Committee is concerned that the “correctional therapy” offered at psychiatric institutions represents an inhuman and degrading treatment.” CRPD urged the Chinese government to “cease its policy of subjecting persons with actual or perceived impairments to such therapies and abstains from involuntarily committing them to institutions.”[8]

[1] “Zhengzhou Sends Psychiatric Parameters to Communities: Find Two People Out of A Thousand With Severe Illness” (郑州向社区摊派精神病指标:1千人中找出2个重症), October 9, 2013, Xinhuanet.com

[2] “Shanghai Fan Miaozhen: At 71, I Was Sent To A ‘Madhouse’ For The Third Time” (上海范妙珍:七十一岁的我第三次进了“疯人院), November 8, 2013, CRLW

[3] “Liaoning Zhang Haiyan: Police Sent Me To Psychiatric Hospital After Mental Health Law Became Effective” (辽宁张海彦:精神卫生法实施后警察送我进了精神病院), November 8, 2013, CRLW

[4] “[Mental Health Law] After Implementation Hubei Again Involuntarily Detains Individual Though Doesn’t Dare to Use Medication” (《精神卫生法》实施后湖北再现被精神病人 医院不敢用药), June 25, 2013, CRLW

[5] “[Mental Health Law] Implementation Difficult to Prevent Gu Xianghong Being Sent to Psychiatric Hospital Again” (《精神卫生法》实施难阻被精神病辜湘红再入精神病院), September 12, 2013, MSGC

[6] “70 Year Old Petitioner Xia Peiqin was Taken to a Psychiatric Hospital for Evaluation and Imprisoned by the Bailiff” (七旬上访者夏培勤被送医院做精神病鉴定并遭法警关押), July 19, 2013, WQW

[7] “Head of Hangzhou Qinghe Middle School Head Accuses Teacher Wang Zhifeng as Being “Mentally Ill” (杭州清河中学老师王志锋因举报校领导被州精神病), September 7, 2013, WQW; “Hangzhou Qinghe Middle School Physical Education Teacher Wang Zhifeng was Administratively Detained After Accused of Mental Illness” (杭州市清河中学体育老师王志锋被精神病后遭行拘), October 18, 2013, WQW

[8]  CRPD, “Concluding observations by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, China”, paras. 27, 28. CRPD/C/CHN/CO-1, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=772&Lang=en

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