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China: No Medical Reason to Hold Dissident

Expert Team Finds Wang Wanxing Wrongly Sent to Asylum for 13 Years

(Berlin) - A report by Dutch psychiatric experts leaves no doubt that Wang Wanxing was a victim of China’s political abuse of psychiatry, the Global Initiative on Psychiatry and Human Rights Watch said today. Both groups called on China to halt this means of stifling dissent.

On January 3 and 4, the team examined Wang in Germany, five months after his release, and concluded there were no grounds for his incarceration. “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 facility. He was not suffering from any mental disorder that could justify his admission,” they wrote. “We were not able to reveal any form of mental disorder: no signs of depression, psychosis or organic disorder.”

Wang, 56, probably the most internationally renowned victim of China’s use of psychiatric detention to silence political activists, spent 13 years in a police-run mental hospital, known as an “Ankang.” The great majority of Ankang inmates are severely mentally disordered offenders – the criminally insane. Those held in Ankang custody have no access to a lawyer, to a court hearing, or to the right of appeal, and the length of incarceration is determined solely by police psychiatrists and officials. Many inmates are held for between five and 20 years.

Wang reacted with enormous relief when told of the Dutch examining team’s report. “It clearly proves that there were no psychiatric grounds for my 13 years in the Beijing Ankang,” he said. “I've been waiting for this for so long. It’s justice at last – a great success.”

Robert van Voren, secretary-general of the Global Initiative on Psychiatry (GIP), which is actively involved in the mental health reform process in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, warmly welcomed the report’s findings. “This independent assessment confirms, finally, what Wang himself has been arguing for 13 years: that he was detained not because he was ‘dangerously mentally ill,’ as claimed by the Chinese authorities, but solely on account of his peacefully held dissident viewpoints,” he said. “Wang’s case underlines the urgent need for China’s Ankang network of police-run mental hospitals to be opened up to independent outside scrutiny as soon as possible.”

Wang, released in August 2005 as a result of diplomatic efforts by the German government and other concerned groups, is living in Germany with his wife and daughter. He was examined there at the request of the GIP, an international Netherlands-based foundation that combats political abuse of psychiatry. The group was at the forefront of the international campaign to end similar abuses in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 80s.

“The conclusion of the expert team confirms our long-held suspicions,” said Brad Adams, director of the Asia division of Human Right Watch. “China has been repeatedly accused of using psychiatry as a tool of political repression, but until Wang left China, it was impossible to verify the accusations.”

The systematic abuse of psychiatry for political purposes in China became internationally known in late 1999, when large numbers of Falungong practitioners were reportedly interned in psychiatric hospitals. However, experts have long asserted that political abuse of psychiatry in China includes among its victims several other main target groups. In August 2002, GIP and HRW jointly published a 298-page report, "Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and its Origins in the Mao Era", which detailed China’s extensive use of psychiatric detention as a means of silencing political dissidents, spiritual nonconformists, trade union activists, whistleblowers, and others. The report estimated that since the early 1980s more than 3,000 people had been incarcerated on such grounds.

The Dutch team’s conclusion should lead to renewed demands for the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) to send an investigative mission to China to meet with known political detainees in psychiatric hospitals and to examine conditions in the police-run Ankang network, as recommended by a resolution adopted during the WPA’s 2002 General Assembly. Since then, the Chinese government has refused to permit such a mission, although under the WPA’s Madrid Declaration of 1996, member societies that do not cooperate in investigating allegations of the political abuse of psychiatry face expulsion from the global professional body. The WPA’s leadership has declined to take disciplinary action against the Chinese Society of Psychiatrists on the factually incorrect grounds that political psychiatric abuse in China is “solely a Falungong issue.”

The examiners’ finding that Wang has no psychiatric illness contrasts strikingly with a “Summary Medical Record” issued by the Beijing Ankang authorities just days before his release in August 2005. According to the latter, “When the topic of conversation turns to politics, [Wang] displays impairments of thought association and of mental logic. His systematic delusions have shown no conspicuous improvement since he was first admitted to the hospital, and his [mental] activities are still characterized by delusions of grandeur, litigation mania, and a conspicuously enhanced pathological will... We recommend that [his medication] treatment regime be continued, and that the patient be kept under strict guardianship.”

The Dutch examining team consisted of B.C.M. Raes, professor in forensic psychiatry at the Free University of Amsterdam and the State University of Groningen, the Netherlands; and B.B. van der Meer, clinical psychologist with wide experience in long-term treatment of mentally disturbed offenders held in a high security forensic psychiatric hospital.

The details from the independent medical report are published here with Wang’s permission.

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