Dissident China held not insane, test shows

March 17, 2006|By MARK MAGNIER | MARK MAGNIER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIJING -- A psychiatric examination performed on a former patient held for 13 years in a police-run Chinese mental hospital has concluded that there was no cause for his detention, human rights groups said yesterday in condemning Beijing's political abuse of psychiatry.

Dutch psychiatrists who tested Wang Wanxing, 56, over a two-day period early this year found nothing wrong with him after he was released from a type of mental institution known as ankang, or "peace and health," according to the Netherlands-based Global Initiative on Psychiatry, a civic group that sponsored the exam.

"There was no reason that Mr. Wang had to be locked up in a special forensic psychiatric hospital or to be admitted to any psychiatric hospital," said the examining physicians in their report. "We were not able to reveal any form of mental disorder."

The physicians were B.C.M. Raes, professor of forensic psychiatry at the Free University of Amsterdam, and B.B. van der Meer, a clinical psychiatrist.

Wang was picked up by police on the eve of the third anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown for unfurling a banner in the square critical of the Communist Party and for calling on Beijing to re-evaluate the event. His release last November from the police-run facility provided a rare peek at the regime's use of psychiatry as a tool of repression.

"I received a diagnosis that I was absolutely healthy," said Wang, in a telephone interview yesterday from Germany, where he now lives with his wife and daughter. "I was labeled insane for political reasons."

Wang said he plans to file a lawsuit and to write a book about his experience.

"In China, doing an independent psychiatric examination would never happen," he said. "They'd never allow it."

Rights groups said the case fits in with a broader pattern in China.

"It's another instance of abuse of people who speak out against the government," said Mickey Spiegel, Asia officer with Human Rights Watch, based in New York. "They silence critics and find various ways of punishing them."

Shortly after his release, Wang described what he saw and experienced in the ankang. He told of a nurse who performed electroshock therapy while forcing other patients to watch and a political prisoner who died after being force-fed while on a hunger strike.

Rights groups and former prisoners say most ankang inmates are people with genuine mental disorders who commit crimes; political cases make up a small minority. Human Rights Watch has documented 3,000 cases of psychiatric punishment for political prisoners in China since the early 1980s.

Robert van Voren, head of the Global Initiative on Psychiatry, said he hopes this case and the doctors' report will persuade psychiatrist groups to condemn China's abuses.

Chinese records provided to Germany when Wang was released last year listed his diagnosis as paranoia and indicated that he was sedated with Thorazine, an antipsychotic drug.

"When the topic of conversation turned to politics, he displayed impairments of thought association and of mental logic," the Chinese report said.

Wang said this week that he believes China is changing tactics as word leaks out about its use of ankang to house political prisoners and that authorities appear to be putting more political prisoners and critics into civilian mental institutions in the hope that it will be less obvious.

"I believe they thought putting me in the asylum wouldn't attract attention," Wang said. "But they must feel they made a mistake; it actually attracted more attention."

Mark Magnier writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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