International President, Citizens Commission on Human Rights
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.
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
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
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
druggingif indeed the WPA ever gets to square one.
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
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
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."
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.
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
Steeped in psychological and psychiatric
studies, the ideology convinced whites that restricting
black South Africans was 'normal,' and that any actionno
matter how harmful, cruel or discriminative against blackscould
steadfastly be justified as being 'benevolent.'"
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.
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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.