By: Jan Eastgate
International President, Citizens Commission on Human Rights

In his recent book, Dangerous Minds, author Robin Munro documented the existence of long-term psychiatric maltreatment of political dissidents in the People's Republic of China. While acknowledged as "one of the most revealing books on China in many years" however, it should come as no surprise to students of totalitarian government to find psychiatry intimately involved in the execution and maintenance of yet another oppressive political agenda.

From Nazi Germany, South Africa, Russia and the former Yugoslavia, to Iraq today, psychiatry has been and/or remains a key player. In fact, the marriage between authoritarian government and psychiatry is as old as psychiatry itself. In the 1800s, Germany's militaristic "Iron Chancellor," Otto von Bismarck, utilized psychiatry to influence and control whole populations in order to fulfill his dreams of conquest through war.

In September 2002, in response to Munro's exposé, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) voted to send a delegation to China to investigate the charges made in Munro's book. But is psychiatry the unwilling victim of such political agendas as claimed by the WPA or a prime mover in the creation and maintenance of authoritarian government, as is now clearly documented for Nazi Germany? South Africa and Russia for example, clearly show that while the agenda was political, the design and frontline implementation were almost exclusively psychiatric.

What can we expect from the WPA? Very little. The WPA has an appalling record of bureaucratic avoidance and incompetence in addressing the standards and ethics of its own membership. Characteristically ignoring and stonewalling reports of psychiatric abuse until the last possible minute, it has always taken external pressure to prompt WPA action, and then primarily in the interests of self-preservation, not the restoration of human rights. Any objective study of its history will deduce that the last thing the WPA will insist upon in China, is the prosecution of psychiatrists involved in political abuse, false imprisonment and enforced drugging—if indeed the WPA ever gets to square one.

According to recent reports, the WPA is already softening its agenda to inspections concerning the fate of members of the ill-fated religious group, the Falun Gong in China. More than 600 have been involuntarily detained in psychiatric facilities where they are heavily drugged to force them to renounce their beliefs. However, such caution typically skirts the tougher issue of the countless numbers of political dissidents who remain tortured, abused and forgotten about in psychiatric-run facilities.

As far as the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is concerned, here is history repeating itself. In the 1970s, the WPA failed to deal with and expel the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SPSA) for its evident complicity in the horrific abuses that continued until apartheid collapsed in 1994.

Gordon Thomas, author of Journey Into Madness, Medical Torture and the Mind Controllers, wrote of doctors at Kroonstad prison in South Africa using "drugs and electro-shocks on inmates." Hundreds of thousands of people, he said, "had been tortured, often to the point of death, under political systems or in the name of political causes. Many had died with a doctor actually present or close by. Those who survived bore forever the physical and mental scars of medically sponsored gross ill-treatment."

In 1999, in an address to the WPA in Hamburg, Germany, Mr. Lawrence Anthony, speaking on behalf of the South African Department of Health, called on the WPA to ensure that the Society of Psychiatrists of South Africa (SPSA) appear before the SA Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating apartheid crimes, to admit to its Nazi-like role in creating apartheid and subsequent abuse of tens of thousands of blacks.

Mr. Anthony, outlined the historical roots of apartheid which had been "justified scientifically in the same way that the Nazi euthanasia program was during the Second World War…Steeped in psychological and psychiatric studies, the ideology convinced whites that restricting black South Africans was 'normal,' and that any action—no matter how harmful, cruel or discriminative against blacks—could steadfastly be justified as being 'benevolent.'"

The WPA's Ethics Committee did nothing, just as it had failed to expel the SPSA from the WPA in the 1970s.

In Russia in the 1980s, the WPA procrastinated so long about Russia's All-Union Psychiatric Association's (AUPA) involvement in psychiatric political abuse, that the Union resigned from the WPA before it could be expelled.

In 1989, the WPA accepted the AUPA back under its banner after a six-year defection. However, Prof. Anatoli Prokopenko, a Russian historian commissioned in 1996 by former President, Boris Yeltsin, to investigate the fate of political dissidents in psychiatric "gulags" during the Soviet era, says, "Soviet leaders of psychiatry have never publicly declared their responsibility in damaging the mental health of people, nor for the inhumane conditions in their hospitals. Political repression using psychiatric means still occurs in Russia today."

Accessing confidential government files, Prokopenko's report on his findings was never released publicly in Russia. Presented to CCHR for publication, the report specifically cites Serbsky Institute, the headquarters for deciding the fate of people who spoke out against the Communist regime. Serbsky remains a powerful psychiatric influence in Russia today, renamed the "Institute of Forensic Psychiatry."

Underpinning these past and continuing atrocities are the psychiatrist's arbitrary and unscientific opinion about what constitutes "mental illness" and the treatment regime to be implemented. In China, psychiatrists have devised terms such as "delusions of reform" and "political maniacs" who shout reactionary slogans, write reactionary banners and reactionary letters, make anti-government speeches in public and express opinions on important domestic and international affairs-in other words, freedom of speech. Inmates have been punished with "intravenous injections that made their tongues bulge out of their mouths and by extremely painful acupuncture that applied an electric current to the sole of the foot."

The Chinese psychiatrist's justification is reminiscent of the earlier Russian psychiatrist's diagnosis, "sluggish schizophrenia." Here the political dissident's "symptoms" included a severe case of "inflexibility of convictions" or "nervous exhaustion brought on by [their] search for justice," camouflaged by "normal behavior."

In summary, there is no political abuse of psychiatry. Totalitarian or democratic society aside, psychiatry is an abuse in itself. This is something that is simply more apparent in totalitarian regimes where personal freedom and human rights have been stamped out forcefully and with it, all societal mechanisms that constrain inhumanity and injustice. The bottom line is that with 20 percent of the world's population, China remains fertile territory for the WPA, but all specious justifications aside, the current WPA initiative will aim no further than repairing, propping up and extending the reputation and influence of psychiatry, specifically the WPA itself.

CCHR is the world's leading psychiatric watchdog group, established by the Church of Scientology in 1969 and now with 34 years experience in exposing psychiatric abuses and reforming the field of mental health. Jan Eastgate has helped secure dozens of government inquiries into psychiatric abuses, leading to both legislative protections for patients and the prohibition of abusive psychiatric treatments and practices.

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