In China, dissidents are imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals

From the 1950s, China began to use psychiatric internment as a tool of repression. Dissidents and activists are therefore arrested, “treated” by force, and tortured. This method, borrowed from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Maoist era, was reduced after the cultural revolution (1966-1976), before being revived in 1988 with the creation of the so-called “Ankang” asylums.

This network of psychiatric establishments is managed directly by the Ministry of Public Security. In 2012 and 2013, laws were finally enacted to protect patients’ rights and end these arbitrary practices. Apparently it didn’t work.

Hospitals for the unwanted

The Madrid-based NGO Safeguard Defenders confirmed this in a report published on August 16, 2022. Authors Yanxi Mou and Dinah Gardner have identified at least ninety-nine victims, but this number only represents “the tip of the iceberg”. In an interview with Radio free Asia, Liu Feiyue, human rights activist and founder of the China right observer group, said that he followed more than thirty cases of activists “who were forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions in 2015, without their relatives’ knowledge or consent”.

Among them is Li Tiantian, who is not mentally ill. This young teacher from Hunan province, north of Hong Kong, disappeared in 2021 after defending, online, the journalism professor who encouraged his students to investigate the Nanjing massacre. The eponymous war between China and Japan in 1937 was the scene of rapes and massacres. Before disappearing, Li texted one of his friends to tell him that the police had forced him to see a psychiatrist. “for violating acceptable commenting on social media”.

Less than a quarter of the victims identified by the NGO Safeguard Defenders were political activists. Most are simply petitioners, or demonstrators, who dare to complain about acts of corruption or injustice. This is the case of Zeng Jiping, a pensioner over 70 years old, a former soldier in the city of Chongqing, who was arrested and imprisoned for more than twenty years for launching a petition. The purpose of this is to push the police to investigate the dispute between the neighbors that resulted in the brutal attack on him and his wife.

Keep business

Another similar case: Jiang Tianlu’s father was beaten to death by an official in 2004, after the authorities arrested him to denounce an illegal land grab. His son then tried to get compensation, but the opposite happened. The Chinese authorities repeatedly sent him to an Ankang. Since then, Jiang Tianlu didn’t even know if he had been interned more than seven times. “After taking their medicines, I felt faint and weak… They also gave me electroconvulsive therapy.”

As in the case of Jiang Tianlu, it is common for some victims to be imprisoned multiple times. Therefore, Gu Xianghong was sent to the asylum about 20 times. “Once someone has forced treatment, then it becomes easier to persuade doctors to re-hospitalize them”according to a Safeguard Defender report.

Furthermore, according to the US State Department’s National Report on Human Rights Practices 2014, between 1998 and May 2010, more than 40,000 people were admitted to hospitals in Ankang. In order to be released, the prisoners must promise the local government to renounce any kind of activism.

Train its population

A tweet published in January 2021 by Dong Yaoqiong allows us to discover the form this kind of statement takes. The young woman, who spent her first stay in a psychiatric hospital for throwing ink on a portrait of Xi Jinping, criticized the practice of forced declaration, before being returned a second time to an Ankang . He has not been heard from since. But in China, petitioners and political dissidents are not the only ones being arbitrarily locked up.

The Uyghurs, a Sunni Muslim ethnic group, a minority in the country but the majority in Xinjiang province, have been hit hard by a series of Uyghur terrorist attacks. According to the UN report, almost one million of them are still imprisoned in camps, where they are indoctrinated, tortured and sometimes killed. To get out of it, they have to sing the praises of the Chinese Communist Party. Meanwhile, and against all the evidence, Beijing prefers to talk about the simple “open training camps”.

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