China locks critics away in mental hospitalsBY KOICHI FURUYA CORRESPONDENT2011/07/20
Holding litigation documents, Zhou Mingde, 53, says his diagnosis of a mental disorder was illegal at his home in Shanghai. (Koichi Furuya)The apartment building, where Xu Wu, who escaped from a mental institution after being diagnosed with a mental disorder, lives in Wuhan in Hubei province. His parents, who live with him, went "missing" temporarily. (Koichi Furuya)
BEIJING--Zhou Mingde lost consciousness after he was struck from behind while walking on a street in Shanghai. It was a hot day in April in 2008.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself in an ambulance with both arms tied.
Zhou, a 53-year-old factory worker, was delivered to a mental institution, where he was ordered to change into the blue-striped clothes worn by patients and forced to take a pill.
At first confused, he finally realized he had been involuntarily committed and he wasn't getting out any time soon.
Zhou is one of a growing number of victims of forced hospitalization in China. Most were suddenly diagnosed as mentally ill and committed after criticizing Chinese authorities. They were rarely allowed to see family members while hospitalized.
A human rights lawyer in Beijing denounced the practice as a way to silence people who protest against the government.
Zhou had publicly complained since 2005 about what he believed was malpractice at a local medical institution that has left his mother in a vegetative state.
After the local government dismissed his grievance, he traveled to Beijing more than 70 times to petition authorities for relief.
When the attack took place on the Shanghai street, he had just been ordered back to the city after visiting the Chinese ministry of health in Beijing to plead his case.
After he was committed, Zhou filed numerous written demands for discharge, maintaining he was not mentally ill.
His relatives also demanded his release, but their pleas were ignored.
While institutionalized, Zhou often refused medication. After pretending to swallow a pill in front of a nurse, he would dispose of it in a toilet.
"Why are these people so cruel," he often asked himself.
He was allowed to leave after 66 days, but ordered to undergo "outpatient treatment."
Zhou took his case to court after he was discharged, but it was dismissed.
"If I complain to the government, does that make me ill?" he asked. "Petitioning for redress is legal under law. I will continue to fight my case because I don't want the same thing to happen to other people that happened to me."
Officials at the institution declined a request for an interview. But a copy of Zhou's diagnosis submitted to the court stated that he was in a "paranoid state" and that "continuing to petition the government for four years is outside the norm."
Zhou is not alone in his predicament.
Xu Wu, a 43-year-old employee at a state company in Wuhan, Hubei province, escaped from a mental institution in April.
Xu took his case to the local news media with a copy of a diagnosis from a different medical institution stating he was "not suffering from a mental disorder."
He was forced into a mental hospital in 2006 when he repeatedly made accusations of corruption.
While he was hospitalized, he was not permitted to see his parents.
Local authorities approved his discharge in early June. But still, they made public results of an examination that found him "suffering without question from mental ailments."
Against the backdrop of a rise in the number of such victims is the absence of a law regulating forced hospitalization in China.
Institutions are free to commit patients diagnosed as "unaware" of their illness.
Critics say that if police order "inconvenient" people locked up in mental hospitals, doctors at such institutions would have a difficult time bucking the authorities.
Huang Xuetao, a human rights lawyer in Shenzhen in Guangdong province who handles forced committals, has called for a legal framework to allow victims to lodge protests.
In response to an array of reports on forced hospitalization, the health ministry unveiled last month a draft bill governing matters related to mental health.
The draft stipulates the right to file a lawsuit challenging forced hospitalization.
But critics say the bill will not be enough to fix the problem.
"It's an illusion if people think they can challenge the responsibility of administrative authorities without greater oversight," said one economic newspaper.
老農津貼叫價 財源大問號 【13:45】