Shanghai Officials Forcibly Admit Petitioner Liu Xinjuan to Psychiatric Care

January 30, 2006

Shanghai public security officials detained several petitioners, including housing rights activist Liu Xinjuan, on January 16 and forcibly admitted Liu to psychiatric care at the Minhang District Beiqiao Psychiatric Hospital, according to a January 20 report by Human Rights in China (HRIC). The detentions took place when Liu and others met to petition before the Shanghai People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, both in session on that date. The HRIC report notes that public security officials took Liu into custody and transported her first to the Qibao Township Dispatch Station and then to the Beiqiao Psychiatric Hospital, both in Shanghai's Minhang district.

According to a January 22 report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) (subscription required), Liu first began petitioning over property issues in 1997. Shanghai authorities previously detained her in the Tilanqiao Prison for five days in March 2003. They later forcibly admitted her to psychiatric care for 14 days in March 2003 and again for eight months beginning June 2003. Authorities reportedly subjected Liu to "brutal and degrading abuse" while she underwent psychiatric treatment in 2003, according to HRIC sources. Liu's son visited her at the Beiqiao Psychiatric Hospital following her most recent detention on January 16 and found that she was covered with bruises and wounds, and that her left hand was immobile. He claimed that authorities failed to inform him of his mother's admission to the hospital or show him medical documents proving that his mother is mentally ill.

The Chinese government operates a nationwide system of custody and treatment hospitals for mentally ill criminal offenders, also known as the "ankang" system. Limited information is available about the actual conditions within ankang hospitals. Human Rights Watch (HRW) devoted an entire section of its 2002 report on Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and Its Origins in the Mao Era to this topic, based on some of the most comprehensive reporting then available. The CECC noted in Section III(e) of its 2005 Annual Report, on Freedom of Expression in China, that Chinese authorities continue to order activists who have been detained and imprisoned not to speak to the press about their experiences. Despite restrictions on his speech, former political prisoner Wang Wanxing provided new details about the ankang system following his release on August 16, 2005. Wang, reportedly the most prominent political prisoner to be released from the ankang system, said that torture took place at the ankang hospital where Beijing officials detained him. Wang also called on the Chinese government to cease psychiatric detention of those without any mental illness, to transfer administration of ankang hospitals from public security officials to psychiatric professionals, and to open ankang hospitals to outside parties for inspection.

In a press release issued in September 2005, HRIC expressed its concern that Chinese authorities have increasingly resorted to psychiatric detention as a measure against political activists. Long-term petitioners such as Liu and Mao Hengfeng, who also has a history of petitioning against government abuses, have been forced to undergo psychiatric treatment on numerous occasions, according to HRIC. One of the three main categories of people taken into psychiatric custody under public security criteria includes "political maniacs" (zhengzhi fengzi). For more information on these criteria and on China's ankang system, see the section in HRW's 2002 report entitled The Ankang: China's Special Psychiatric Hospitals.