In the former Soviet Union, psychiatry was often used as a tool of political repression. This barbaric practice disappeared in Russia after the fall of Communism. But elsewhere, in China, in particular, such psychiatric abuse continues.
According to the latest U.S. State Department human rights report, in China "a number of political and trade union activists, underground religious believers, persons who repeatedly petitioned the government, members of the banned China Democratic Party, and Falun Gong adherents [are] incarcerated in" mental institutions.
Wang Wanxing was confined to one of a network of psychiatric prisons in China in 1992 for unfurling a banner that criticized the Chinese Communist Party. After his release, Mr. Wang described widespread abuses in the mental asylum known as the Beijing Ankang. He said he had to live in cells with psychotically disturbed inmates convicted of murder and was forced to swallow powerful antipsychotic drugs. Mr. Wang along with other inmates was made to watch as staff members used electrified acupuncture needles to punish patients. One inmate died from a heart attack while being punished in this way, said Mr. Wang.
Reports starting in late 1999 that large numbers of Falun Gong adherents were interned in psychiatric hospitals drew wide international attention to the growing abuse of psychiatry for political purposes in China. The independent monitoring group Human Rights Watch estimates that since the early 1980s more than three-thousand Chinese dissidents have been punished in this way. Those held in custody have no access to a lawyer or a court hearing, nor any right of appeal. The length of incarceration is determined solely by police psychiatrists and officials. Many inmates are held between five and twenty years.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. will call countries, including China, to account when they violate their human rights commitments. It is time for the Chinese government to open its network of police-run mental asylums to international scrutiny and release those falsely imprisoned.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.