Chinese mental hospitals are full of political opponents. Many are also tortured, claim western psychiatrists.

The Chinese mental hospitals are full of political dissidents. Chinese people who actively criticise the rulers not only risk being forced into mental hospitals, but many are also tortured, claim western psychiatrists.

The number of dissidents forced into mental hospitals probably has to be counted in the thousands. The situation strongly resembles what once prevailed in the Soviet Union, according to a new report from the human rights organisations Human Rights Watch and Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry.

Among those locked up in mental hospitals are many members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, [...] Members of independent professional organisations and individuals who complain about persecution also risk being locked up, the report claims.

Demands opening up

A demand that China open up its institutions for international inspection was put forward Monday at the World Psychiatric Association general meeting in Yokohama in Japan. A vote on the proposal was not expected until Monday evening Norwegian time at the earliest.

In a meeting associated with the Yokohama congress, Viviana Galli, a child psychologist from the American state of Ohio who is also a Falun Gong practitioner, said on Monday that more than 1000 practitioners are locked up in mental hospitals. There they share mistreatment with Christians -- Protestants and Catholics alike -- and Buddhists, she added.

She also pointed out that many of these "patients" are being tortured in many ways. They are tied up for many days at a time, brutally immersed in water, or forcefully given medicine, said Galli, while other participants in the congress said it was about time the world community did something.

"Enough evidence"

We have enough evidence from independent sources that harassment is taking place against others in addition to Falun Gong practitioners. This is especially true for independent trade unionists and people who complain about the corruption in public life, says Jim Birley, board member of the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry.

In his earlier commission as leader of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists, Birley in 1991 led a delegation that investigated the situation of forcefully admitted patients in the Soviet Union. He thinks the situation in today's China strongly resembles what he saw and heard then.

Jim Birley urged people to be realistic concerning the chances that international professionals will be able to visit psychiatric institutions in China. The question exists whether or not a resolution from the WPA will be taken seriously in Beijing, he said on Monday.

[Note: Since this article was written, the general assembly of the World Psychiatric Association voted to send a delegation to China to investigate the abuse of psychiatry in the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.]

Published in the web pages of the Norwegian daily Dagbladet 2002-08-26, supplied by NTB-AFP