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WPA Agreement Disavows Psychiatric Abuse in China
Maureen Zebian

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The leadership of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) has announced an agreement with the Chinese Society of Psychiatry (CSP) that denies the systematic psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

The agreement was reached during the May 2004 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In a statement posted on the WPA’s website at, WPA President Ahmed Okasha is joined by Dongfen Zhou and Yongfen Chen, the President and Vice-President respectively of the CSP in announcing the agreement. The linchpin is an admission by the CSP to a “pattern of misdiagnosis and mistreatment” and “the failure of some Chinese psychiatric colleagues to distinguish between cultural beliefs and delusions” due to insufficient education and training.

This latest development follows two years of effort by the WPA to conduct an investigation in China.

At the WPA’s annual conference in August 2002, its general assembly passed a resolution calling for an investigation into allegations of systematic psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Negotiations arranging such an investigation seemed to go nowhere until January 2004, when Prof. Okasha and past presidents of the WPA were invited to Beijing for a meeting with the President of the CSP and China’s Minister of Health.

Full cooperation with an independent investigation was promised at that time and planning began for the investigation, which was scheduled for April 4. However, on March 31, the CSP sent Prof. Okasha a letter saying they could not cooperate with the investigation, and in early May, the WPA announced that its plans were postponed indefinitely.

Perhaps the groundwork for this agreement was laid in the January meeting in Beijing. In a March 25 interview with The Epoch Times, Prof. Okasha explained that at that meeting he emphasized the need for improved psychiatric education in China, something the CSP was ready to agree to. In the interview, he also expressed his opinion that the alleged cases of abuse were most likely to be cases of “misdiagnosis” and not the abuse of psychiatry.

The current agreement between the WPA and CSP seems to mirror Prof. Okasha’s opinion. It has drawn scathing criticism. China Mental Health Watch (CMHW), an organization devoted to exposing the psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China, sent a letter to the leadership of the WPA that characterizes the agreement as a “whitewash” that labels “torture” as “misdiagnosis and mistreatment.”

The CMHW letter points out that reports of the psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China have been made by numerous news, human rights and governmental organizations. The letter goes on to refute the suggestion that abuse may be occurring due to poor professional education in China, and charges that Prof. Okasha’s agreement “betrays the victims of psychiatric abuse in China, damages the credibility and the integrity of the WPA, and makes a mockery of the Madrid principles.”

This last charge by CMHW could be particularly galling to Prof. Okasha. The Madrid Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychiatric Practice provides standards for the practice of psychiatry worldwide, and was passed by the WPA in 1996. It stipulates that no patients should ever be admitted into a psychiatric hospital for political, racial or religious reasons. Prof. Okasha is its author.

Dr. Abraham Halpern, past president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, and honorary chair of CMHW registered a formal complaint of the psychiatric abuses in China four years ago, and was heartened by the January 2004 talks. News of the apparent WPA withdrawal of an investigation “comes as a great disappointment,” he said.

Dr. Halpern went on to say, “I am particularly shocked by Professor Okasha's statement that the leadership of the APA is in accord with the WPA abandonment of its earlier decision to investigate the allegations of psychiatric abuse in China.”

Recalling the response of Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists to reports of psychiatric abuse in China, Dr. Halpern said he doesn’t believe that he will be the only professional “appalled at this latest Chamberlain-like appeasement, ‘peace at any price’ abomination.”

Efforts by the CSP to avoid an investigation by the WPA may be viewed within the wider context of China’s attempts to avoid investigation into alleged human rights abuses.

On June 16, the United Nations Human Rights Commission announced that the10-year effort to have its special rapporteur investigate allegations of torture has once again been stalled, with the Chinese government asking for “more time to prepare.”

Human Rights in China noted at the time, “The Chinese government has engaged in a recurring strategy of responding to international pressure and scrutiny with well-timed overtures that it and other governments can point to as indicators of China’s progress in human rights reforms ...Once the pressure recedes, these overtures are all too often withdrawn.”

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