Mental Hospital For Petitioner

 A Chinese woman who goes to complain about her local government is sent to a psychiatric institution instead.

A petitioner from the eastern province of Zhejiang has described being sent to a mental hospital after she traveled to Beijing to complain about her local government, amid accusations that Chinese authorities are using forcible psychiatric treatment to silence critics.

Shen Zhihua, a petitioner from Anji county near Huzhou city, told RFA's Mandarin service this week that she was taken away by officials to the Huzhou No.3 Hospital, where she was now receiving psychiatric treatment.

"A doctor from the Huzhou No. 3 Hospital told me that according to medical ethics, they would be unable to hold me if there was nothing wrong with me," Shen said from the hospital.

Shen said she was picked up by officials from her hometown in Beijing and told that she had a choice between going to jail and psychiatric hospital.

"The head of Meixi township Zhou Gang said 'either she will have to be sentenced, or be committed to a psychiatric unit,'" she added.

Zhou repeated his claim when contacted by RFA on Tuesday that Shen had mental health problems.

"She took off her trousers on the train, and urinated and defecated," he said.

"She said that Jiang Zemin had invited her for a midnight snack, that she wouldn't go, and that Jiang Zemin had got angry," Zhou said, referring to the former Chinese president. "Do you think that such a person is mentally normal?"

"We are just doing our duty as a government; she has no-one to care for her."

No photographic evidence

Asked if the officials had taken photographic evidence of the scenes he described, he said: "No, actually we didn't."

He said a final decision from doctors on Shen's mental state was still pending.

Hangzhou-based rights activist Lu Gengsong said he was familiar with Shen's case.

"When she was about 20, she went to Shenzhen to work in the factories, and she was promoted to manager because she was hard-working and willing," Lu said.

Shen, 51, said she had quit her job to go back home and fight for farmland which had been appropriated by officials in her hometown.

"The white poplar trees had all been cut down, and they wouldn't give me back my land," she said. "Last March, they leased it all out again."

Chinese psychiatric patients are routinely subjected to abuse of their rights in a system that makes scant distinction between different kinds of mental illness, according to a recent report by the China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group.

While reports have become more widespread in recent years of the incarceration of rights activists and petitioners in psychiatric institutions for political reasons, genuine mental health patients are also highly vulnerable to abuses under the current system, CHRD said.

"Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are locked up against their will in China’s psychiatric hospitals because they have, or are alleged to have, psychosocial disabilities," the report said.

The report, titled "The Darkest Corners," details the grim conditions and human rights abuses faced by people who are committed to psychiatric care against their will, even if they do not pose a demonstrable threat of harm to themselves or to others.

"[Such individuals] are denied the right to make decisions regarding their own fate, including admission, discharge, and treatment," CHRD said in an e-mailed statement. "Forced medical treatment, violence, and mistreatment occur frequently."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.