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Petitioner Round-up Brings Threat of Psychiatric Incarceration

September 19, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Shanghai authorities have staged a major round-up of long-term petitioners, detaining at least 100 people since September 14. Sources say some of the detainees have been threatened with forcible psychiatric treatment.

Sources in China told HRIC that beginning on the afternoon of September 14, local police detained more than 100 petitioners city-wide, with some people rounded up as they were walking in the street, or waiting for a bus, while others were taken in the middle of the night. Many of the detainees remain in custody, although their families have not been presented with any warrants for their detention.

Informed sources told HRIC that the police operation was instigated by the Shanghai Petitions and Letters Office and the Jing An District Public Security Bureau (PSB). Sources say the detainees were all taken to the Jing An PSB division devoted to petitioners, and that while no formal procedures were followed, each detainee was forced to submit to photographing, fingerprinting and a body search. Each detainee was also reportedly subjected to interrogation, and those who failed to cooperate were beaten. HRIC’s sources quote a number of other detainees as saying that they witnessed one detainee, Zhang Fenfen, being beaten by a police officer with the badge number 027223 when he refused to be photographed and searched; police reportedly also threatened to send Zhang to a psychiatric facility if he didn’t cooperate. Zhang has been sent to a psychiatric hospital on two previous occasions, during which he was reportedly subjected to forcible injections and electric shocks.

Other detained petitioners include Chen Enjuan, who was only recently released from one year and nine months of Reeducation Through Labor (RTL), and Wei Qin, whose detention has left a 12-year-old child at home unattended. Wu Xiewei, the husband of petitioner Mao Hengfeng, was reportedly detained on September 15. He was allowed to return home the next day, but is being held on sixth months’ bail on a charge of “illegal assembly.” Mao Hengfeng, who was recently released from a term of RTL, has been forced to undergo psychiatric treatment on three occasions. She describes the experience as “Hell on earth,” and recalls being subjected to electric shock “therapy” many times.

According to HRIC’s information, Chinese authorities have been stepping up the use of psychiatric treatment against petitioners in recent years, with such cases being widely reported even in domestic newspapers.

Other petitioners detained for “illegal assembly” included Ma Yalian, Shen Yongmei, Chen Xiuqin, Zhou Minwen, Wang Xueyi, Yang Chunhua and Chen Wanhong. Sources say the petitioners were specifically targeted because of their participation in protests by more than 200 people on August 31 and September 7 in front of the Shanghai municipal government offices and in front of the Jing An district’s Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where many foreign journalists are staying. During the demonstrations, protesters cried slogans and unfurled banners stating, “Give back our human rights; Give back our homes; Forcible eviction is terrorism; Unlawful detention for lawful petitioning,” and so on.

According to HRIC’s sources, a policeman at the scene told the protesters, “If you want to go shout your slogans somewhere else, I don’t care, but you can’t do it in Jing An district. You blacken Shanghai’s reputation by causing the foreign media to report on forcible evictions in Shanghai.”

HRIC notes that the petitioner round-up took place the day after the trial of veteran petitioner Xu Zhengqing, who has been arrested and charged in connection with his attempt to attend a memorial service for deposed leader Zhao Ziyang in Beijing in January. The court has not yet delivered a verdict in Xu’s case. More than 20 petitioners who gathered around the courthouse on that day were briefly detained, and many of them were picked up again in the latest round-up.

HRIC is deeply concerned over the detention of people for lawfully expressing their views, and especially over threats of forcible “psychiatric treatment” against those who insist on protesting injustice. The forcible clearance and relocation of residents of Shanghai’s prime commercial districts has become a major source of social unrest. The Shanghai authorities should address this urgent issue and punish corrupt and callous officials, not those who have lost their homes, often with inadequate compensation.

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