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China

In China, Silencing Opponents With A Trip To The Psychiatric Ward

Chinese lawmakers have drafted a law designed to protect people from the so-called “made mad” phenomenon. As several high-profile cases have shown, people in power sometimes manage to force political opponents into mental hospitals.

Hubei Province, where several high-profile
Hubei Province, where several high-profile
Chao Sheng

A few days ago, China's State Council Legislative Affairs Office publicized a draft bill that deals with the nation's mental health policy. Chapter Six of the bill focuses on "liabilities." It stipulates among other things that "those who force others against their will to undergo medical examination to determine whether or not they are mentally disordered, as well as those who deliberately commit to medical institutions non-mentally disordered people as mentally disordered, are to be held liable under both criminal and civil law."

This article immediately sparked serious attention since it relates to the so-called "made mad" phenomenon, a serious – and apparently growing – problem in China. The term "made mad" refers to people of sane mind who are forced into mental health treatment and locked up in hospitals with restricted freedom of movement and communication. In order to be "cured" – and thus freed, the person must give in to the treatment by accepting whatever is required of him.

The media has shed light on numerous "made mad" cases, citing terrifying examples of how state institutions and powerful individuals use spurious reasons to label someone a potential threat in order to justify that person's internment in a mental health facility. This deprives victims of civil rights for long periods. These kinds of cases have been executed without judicial procedure. And the perpetrators have enjoyed legal impunity.

This new draft law sends out two messages. First, that current legislation is full of loopholes that must be addressed. And second, that fresh legislation is needed to mend these loopholes and thus prevent people from authoring more "made mad" cases.

The undiagnosed "psychopaths'

The term "made mad" appeared not long ago because of the widely reported cases of Peng Baoquan and Guo Yuanrong, both from Hubei Province. Boaquan, a bank employee, was forced into a mental hospital after public accusing his superior of corruption. Yuanrong, a former County Construction Bureau employee, was imprisoned in a psychiatric ward for 14 years for a similar case.

Boaquan, Yuanrong and countless others have been labeled "psychopaths' without any real medical diagnosis. The worst part is that the people who perpetrated these crimes did so with the full cooperation of the authorities, the police departments, and the hospitals.

In other words, the will of those in power – implemented by the authorities, and abetted by the professional medical institutions – is as effective as a court decision in depriving people of their freedom and civil rights. It is extra-judicial justice, a magic weapon for those in power to strike at those who threaten their position.

The new mental health bill could help bring an end to the abuse, but it falls short in several regards. Though the draft law lays out in detail how to prevent the forceable commitment of normal people as mentally ill, it presumes only a limited number of circumstances, meaning it fails to the seal the loopholes completely. If there is collusion between the authorities, police, and health officials then the law will be circumvented.

Since there is no way to prevent unscrupulous people from carrying out further abuse, the punishment should be much more severe. Alas, the current draft is very unclear in this respect. It only expresses that the wrongdoers will be "criminally liable." But how exactly? Who is to be held responsible if a local authority forces someone into a mental hospital in the name of safeguarding stability? And how do the government, the police and the hospital assume their joint liability? Does the physically and mentally damaged victim get compensated by the state?

Those questions must be answered before the bill becomes law.

Read the original article in Chinese

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