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China part of psychiatric axis of evil
By Christopher Lingle
9/15/2002

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Minions of China's communist party are acting as overzealous guardians of order, although certainly not of the rule of law. As least this is the suggestion in the accusations that China has been detaining Falun Gong followers and other political dissidents in mental institutions and forcing them to take psychotropic drugs and undergo electroconvulsive therapy.

Evidence of the abuse of psychiatry in China was presented during a congress of the World Psychiatric Association(WPA). If such activities are confirmed, individual psychiatrists could be expelled from the association under WPA rules and China could lose its national affiliation.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch offered evidence gleaned from official documents suggesting that up to 15 percent of inmates in Chinese mental institutions are political prison-ers. This report chronicled China's history of using psychiatry as a means of repressing political dissidents.

One estimate indicates that at least 3,000 people were subjected to psychiatric detention for political activity over the past two decades.

The recent increase in the politicized use and control of psychiatric treatment may be part of Beijing's concerted effort to stem the rise of Falun Gong, a spiritual sect that focuses on meditation.

For its part, Chinese clinical psychiatry is said to conform to most internationally acceptable diagnostic and ethical standards. However, forensic psychiatrists may have been co-opted by the system by engaging in diagnoses to support acts of political suppression. According to Human Rights Watch, these decisions have led to political activists outnumbering all those institutionalized for criminal insanity appraised by China's forensic psychiatry system, including psychotic murderers, rapists, arsonists and offenders with violent mental illnesses.

Psychiatric abuse is nothing new in China. Under Mao Zedong's (AF) rule during the 1960s and 1970s, psychiatric appraisals in almost three-quarters of all criminal cases involved political dissidents.

Nor is the practice of utilizing psychiatry to support state repression uncommon in communist countries. In fact, a psychiatric "axis of evil" can be identified with China joining the ranks of the now-defunct Soviet Union and its former client Cuba. Similar charges in 1983 forced the Soviet Union to withdraw from the association to head off moves to have it expelled. In 1996, the office of research for Radio Marti found 200 documented cases of abuse of psychiatric medicine that brought the total of known cases of psychiatric abuse in Cuba to 371.

But the WPA has neither censured nor expelled China. Instead, the action taken amounted to a slap on the wrist. A team of experts will be sent to China next year to investigate whether there are political dissidents being held in mental wards. Since Chinese officials have denied the charges, it is possible that Beijing might refuse to accept the delegation. As it is, Beijing has refused to open its asylums to independent investigators so they could observe prisoners and review their mental state.

At present, political deviancy is still considered to be a form of insanity or at minimum it is taken to represent a serious form of mental illness. As such, "political maniacs" are housed along with dangerous mentally ill criminals. Chinese citizens have been incarcerated for shouting slogans or writing banners that are considered to be "reactionary" or for speaking out in public against government policies.

One way to interpret this rise in psychiatric abuse is that the current regime realizes it has become increasingly weak and is more vulnerable to unrest. Besides direct political dissent, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with Beijing that includes scattered rioting and even bombings. The motivations are mixed, and culprits range from disaffected ethnic separatists to disgruntled workers dispossessed from their jobs by downsizing.

But there has also been an increase in dissident activities, including an attempt to form an opposition political party, the Democratic Party of China. Unfortunately, the authorities choked this infant movement in its cradle by imprisoning its leaders and raiding their meetings.

It would appear from its choice of weak action that the WPA has joined too many other groups or people who are willing to overlook Beijing's disregard for human and individual rights. It is all the more disheartening that the WPA is the world's leading psychiatric association and represents professional groups from more than 100 countries.

*Christopher Lingle is professor of economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala and global strategist for eConoLytics.com.


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