As reported on the PBS NewsHour of September 11, 2009
(Video Link Updated)
From the Transcript
China's emphasis on social harmony provides an incentive for petitioners to press for justice, but it also sets the stage for their persecution. That's because petitioners know that Chinese officials in the central government take unrest in local communities seriously, but the local officials who are being complained about will often seek retribution or try to stop people from petitioning in the first place.
Teng Biao, a professor at the University of Politics and Law in Beijing, says the system itself creates these kinds of problems. He runs an NGO to provide legal aid to petitioners.
TENG BIAO, University of Politics and Law, Beijing: From the top down, the petitioning situation is an assessing index for the officials on their political achievements. If there are many petitioners coming to Beijing from a place, then it will affect the local officials on their promotions and bonuses.
SHANNON VAN SANT: For his work, Teng Biao had his lawyers license and passport taken away. After this interview, Chinese authorities shut down Teng Biao's NGO, and police detained two of his colleagues. Despite the risk, Teng said he will continue his work.
I traveled to Wuhan to talk with another Chinese activist, Liu Feiyue, but he was under house arrest. Liu heads an NGO that is currently following 100 cases of wrongful psychiatric detention. Over the last three years, he says he knows of 500 more whistleblowers and protesters who have been detained in mental hospitals.
Robin Munro, who has extensively researched psychiatric detention in China and written two books on the topic, thinks the practice is widespread.
ROBIN MUNRO, human rights activist: China's experience in this area is far more serious and extensive than any other country.
SHANNON VAN SANT: Munro, who is based in Hong Kong, believes that since there are no national mental health laws protecting the rights of people who have been compulsorily hospitalized, but there are rules limiting arbitrary arrest, hospitals are becoming a convenient means of silencing protesters.
ROBIN MUNRO: Once diagnosed in this way, as dangerously mentally ill, citizens have no rights. They have no legal right to see a lawyer; they have no legal right to be brought before a judge so that a judicial determination can be made.
SHANNON VAN SANT: The Chinese press, including the Beijing News, has reported on the hospitalizations. The story was picked up by the state's official press agency, The People's Daily and Sina.com, where it drew 23,000 comments. Such coverage in Chinese newspapers could imply there is central government support for preventing wrongful psychiatric detention by local officials.
China's Ministry of Health denied requests for an interview, but sent a list of relevant regulations on treatment of the mentally ill, which said, in part, "The diagnosis of psychiatric disease is, according to the Chinese mental disorder category and diagnosis standard third edition, approved by Chinese medical association and referring to the related standards of international disease diagnosis category."
When asked at a press conference about the increasing numbers of protesters being put in mental hospitals, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said...
QIN GANG, Spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): It's the first time for me to hear the situation you addressed. I don't know about the situation of psychiatric hospitals, but please believe the related Chinese governmental departments conduct administration according to law.
SHANNON VAN SANT: But in Wuhan, another petitioner, Hu Guohong, said he has been forcibly hospitalized in mental institutions four times and that he and his wife, Cheng Xue, have been warned repeatedly by local officials to stop petitioning.
HU GUOHONG, petitioner: They said, "We don't allow you to go petitioning to the upper levels. If you do that, we will beat you to death."