China’s Psychiatric Prisons for Activists

China has been forcefully sending petitioners and activists to psychiatric hospitals and torturing them to suppress dissent, remains routine, according to a report. 

“Beijing authorities for decades used the country’s system of psychiatric hospitals, known as Ankang, to punish political prisoners, said the report Drugged and Detained: China’s psychiatric prisons, by Madrid-based NGO Safeguard Defenders .

It said that the practice continues, despite reforms in the early 2010s that required medical assent and increased judicial oversight over China’s psychiatric care system.

“In 2022, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still routinely locking up political targets in psychiatric hospitals despite implementing legal changes to stop this barbaric practice more than a decade ago,” the report said.


The authors used secondary sourced interviews of victims and their families for arriving at their claim. They found 99 people had been locked up in psychiatric wards 144 times in the seven years from 2015 to 2021, covering 109 hospitals in 21 provinces, municipalities or regions across China.

“It’s important to note that this number is “just the tip of the iceberg”. Countless more cases would not have been noticed by NGOs and media, especially in this climate of fear under Xi Jinping that has increasingly closed off China to the outside world,” they noted.


The researchers said that their findings showed that the legal reforms that China claimed to have brought up against illegally sending activists and critics to psychiatric prisons have not worked.

It further said” Twenty years ago, the world was horrified by news that China was sending activists and critics to psychiatric prisons. It was called Ankang, after the system of police-run psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane.”

Under intense international and domestic criticism, Beijing said it was cleaning up its act. Between 2012 and 2013, it passed a new Mental Health Law to stipulate that compulsory treatment must be approved via medical assessment and revised its Criminal Procedure Law to give judicial oversight to police-enforced psychiatric commitment, the researchers said.

The NGO in its report alleged that the police and government agents continue to arbitrarily send petitioners and activists, sometimes repeatedly (one woman in the study had been sent 20 times!) to psychiatric commitment, both within the Ankang system and in general medical facilities.

They further charged that the doctors and hospitals are either coerced by, or collude with, the authorities by allowing this abuse to take place.


The study said that the victims once inside the hospital may stay there for months, even years. Nine victims have been inside for more than ten years, they noted. Others have been locked up again and again (almost a third of the 99 victims had been sent two or more times).

“Locked up, many patients were physically and mentally abused. They were subjected to painful electroconvulsive therapy, often without anesthesia; tied to their beds where they were left for hours to lie humiliated in their own waste; and beaten and isolated (contact with their family or lawyers through visits or phone calls was blocked),”they said.

The authors said that the victims suffered from serious physical and psychological trauma even after their release. The forced medication also left enduring mental scars including signs of dementia in even young victims, night terrors, tremors and suicidal thoughts, they added.

The Safeguard Defenders urged the international community to pay attention to this grave abuse of human rights and help pressure Beijing to make good on its promises it made a decade ago.

It also said that China must take immediate steps to put a stop to the political abuse of psychiatry, release all those unjustly imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals and provide them with full access to remedy in seeking compensation for their ordeal and timely medical assistance in dealing with the psychological and physical consequences of their ordeal.

China should also urgently review its responsibilities to international law as regards the treatment of psychiatric patients and endeavour to revise current legislation and improve the medical sector’s understanding of such legislation to prevent this kind of abuse from happening ever again, the NGO said.

The Safeguard Defenders say the data indicates that the political abuse of psychiatry in China is:

• Constant (cases recorded every year)

• Geographically widespread and routinely practiced (cases recorded in over 100 hospitals across China)

• Unlawful (with no psychiatric evaluation, patients have no severe mental illness and no history or risk of violence)

• Often equivalent to an enforced disappearance with family members routinely not being informed

• Violates human rights norms including the rights to health, liberty, to be free from abuse and remedy

• And, a grave violation of the right to dignity, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that China ratified in 2008.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here