China has charged many of its most outspoken critics with political monomania and detained them in psychiatric hospitals, according to Human Rights Watch, which has extensive contacts in China.
As many as 15 per cent of Chinese psychiatric inmates may be in custody for political reasons, according to estimates based on historical trends.
Those held in mental asylums include Falun Gong members, independent labour organisers, whistleblowers and individuals who complain about political persecution or official misconduct.
One of them is Chinas longest-serving political prisoner, Wang Wanxing, 52, who was first arrested in the mid-1970s. He has been held in an institution for the criminally insane for most of the past decade, based on a diagnosis by police psychiatrists that he is a paranoid psychotic.
His wife appealed publicy for his release last week, saying that she feared that he would be killed by violent inmates on the ward for murderers to which he was recently transferred.
Some of the prisoners have threatened to kill him, she said. A mentally ill person is not responsible for his actions, so if any prisoner killed my husband, he would not be punished. My husband should be separated from such murderers.
After a brief release, Mr Wang was detained in 1992 on Tiananmen Square for unfurling a banner to commemorate the third anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 student protests.
He has been held at the Ankang Psychiatric Hospital, run by the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, for treatment of so-called political abnormality illness.
During another brief release in 1999 Mr Wang made an 80-minute videotape in which he declared himself sane and cited a request by President Bush Sr for his freedom. He said: Im a normal person. I am not sick. I want to go back to my family and rejoin society. I have spent ten years in hospital. That is enough.
I want to go home. President Bush asked for my release. I have never committed violence. I am proud of what I have done and do not regret what I did in 1989 and 1992. A person should have his own way of thinking.
In its 298-page report, Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and its Origins in the Mao Era, Human Rights Watch and the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, a Netherlands-based international foundation, analyse the sentencing of political dissidents on the basis of false diagnoses.
Human Rights Watch said: While it is impossible to know precisely how many such persons are currently being held in mental asylums alongside the genuinely mentally ill, numerous official documents from China state that during the 1980s the percentage of people held in asylums who were being punished for committing political offences was as high as 15 per cent of the total criminal psychiatric caseload.
The publication of the report is timed to coincide with the congress of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) in Yokohama from August 23-29. Under the associations Madrid Declaration, passed in 1996, all forms of psychiatric diagnosis or treatment on the basis of the political needs of governments are explicitly forbidden.
The WPA delegates should adopt a strong resolution in Yokohama calling on China to cease these abuses and to fully co-operate with a WPA investigation, Robert van Voren, General-Secretary of the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, said.
A WPA-led delegation should visit the asylums, carry out independent medical examinations and monitor conditions and treatment, especially in the police-run asylums.
Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of Human Rights Watchs Asia Division, said: The world medical community should speak out on this important issue. The Chinese psychiatrists who bravely refuse to participate in state repression need to feel they have support from abroad. [..]
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