Retired railroad conductor and labor activist Xue Jifeng was confined to the Xinxiang City Psychiatric Hospital for six months, finally being released on June 20, 2000. Xue was forcibly taken to the institution on December 17, 1999, just days after he attempted to register the Zhengzhou Workers Association with the local authorities, in order to make it a legally-constituted entity. He was only released after he agreed to the authorities rules under which he is banned from participating in politics or caring about other peoples affairs.
Xue is one of a number of cases of people forcibly committed to mental institutions for political reasons in recent years. A fellow labor activist in Shanghai, Wang Miaogen, has been in psychiatric detention since 1993, and Wang Wanxing, a political dissident in Beijing, is beginning a second stretch of such detention after already being held against his and his familys will for seven years. According to the Falungong group, over a hundred of their members are being detained in mental hospitals in this way.
Human Rights in China is deeply concerned about the growing use by the authorities of forced incarceration in mental facilities. Political and religious dissidents are being held without trial or independent evaluation of their mental state, merely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. In many cases, their families have not been consulted and believe that the individuals concerned are not mentally ill. Some are forced to take strong drugs they do not want or need. They are subjected to forced medication and incarceration although there is no indication that the detainees pose any harm to themselves or to society. Such treatment constitutes an abuse of psychiatry, and runs counter to basic principles of international human rights law.
After careful planning, Xue and 20 other activists set up the Zhengzhou Workers Association in early December 1999. In its founding declaration, the organization defined its goal as striving for the rights and interests of all workers. Specifically, they sought: the right to a basic standard of living for unemployed, laid-off and displaced workers; the right of workers to receive past-due wages and the portions of salaries illegally pocketed by their employers; the right of retired workers to receive their pensions; safeguards to prevent further squandering of state-owned assets; an end to the use of child labor; and the protection of the rights of workers who have suffered occupational injuries and diseases.
Their overall objective in establishing the Zhengzhou Workers Association was to insist that the dignity of all workers be respected. In the current Chinese Constitution, they pointed out, workers are considered the masters of the country, and therefore they asserted that workers have a responsibility to unite and struggle for their individual rights.
On the day of Xue Jifengs detention, the group had organized an unofficial gathering in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province. Xue was apprehended when he arrived at the meeting.
Xue is no stranger to psychiatric incarceration. In November 1998, he spent a week in the very same Xinxiang Psychiatric Hospital following his highly visible involvement in the Three Stars Corporation case. His activism relating to this matter brought him not only attention from the international media, but also was the start of his being subjected to the close government scrutiny. At the time, Xue was the head of the Preparatory Office of the Workers Association, which later became the Zhengzhou Workers Association.
In the Three Stars case, Xue represented employees who had invested in the company, believing it had the backing of the local government. Investors had been given particular confidence in the firm by the fact that advertisements for Three Stars were published in the Communist Party publication Party Life. However, in May 1998, provincial authorities found Three Stars guilty of illegally raising funds. The company was suddenly declared bankrupt and shut down.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Yang Yuming, a Three Stars investor, described how corrupt practices had increased losses for ordinary investors. The way the authorities dealt with the closure of the company was extremely unfair. On May 8, the provincial governments Industry and Commerce Bureau began to wind up the company, but the central government document wasnt issued until July 28. Government officials should not leak news regarding the process of financial reorganization, allowing their own family and friends to withdraw their investments first. This was the biggest mistake. Distant relatives of those in the provincial administration and the Industry and Commerce Bureau also pulled out their assets early on, leaving the ordinary citizens to bear the brunt of the shut-downs consequences . According to the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, 50,000 unsuspecting investors had poured 800 million yuan into Three Stars. Investors recovered only about 40 percent of their money.
Outraged workers of the company staged dozens of protests, demanding that the local government assist them in recovering their money. Victims of the scam held the government partially responsible. In November 1998, former employees of Three Stars elected Xue to head a delegation lodging a criminal and civil lawsuit against the Henan Provincial Chinese Communist Party Committee and its secretary, Ma Zhongchen. The case called for the criminal prosecution of those responsible for the Three Stars finance scheme, as well as the return of the workers original investments and an official apology.
On November 9, 1998, Xue Jifeng was detained and forcibly committed to the Xinxiang City Psychiatric Hospital. He was released a week later, after Zhengzhou citizens had staged a large demonstration demanding his release.
But the second time, he was not so lucky. Intent on silencing him, the authorities held him in psychiatric incarceration for six months. While in custody, Xue was force-fed psychiatric drugs that he said had severe side effects, and shared a room with clinically disturbed patients. The police pressured his wife to make a written declaration that he was cured, thus admitting that his incarceration in the hospital was justified. But she refused.
In a telephone interview with Agence France Presse from the hospital, Xue asserted, People who know me and the staff in the hospital do not think that I have a mental illness . I was put here by the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau on orders from the government.
Now, to get out of detention, Xue has been forced to accept conditions restricting his rights without any legal process at all.
Compiled by Seth Eckstein with translation assistance from Johanna Ransmeier.