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Rights Groups Allege China Puts Dissidents in Mental Institutions - 2002-08-27

China is rejecting allegations that it locks up dissidents in mental hospitals. The denial comes after the World Psychiatric Association decided to send a team to China to investigate.

Wang Wanxing, one of China's longest-serving political prisoners, has been held in a psychiatric hospital for 10 years.

Wang Junying says her husband was arrested in 1992 for trying to unfurl a protest banner in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Since then, she says, he has been held in the Ankang Public Security Hospital, which is managed by Beijing's Public Security Bureau.

Ms. Wang says her husband is not suffering from any mental illness, and pleads for his unconditional release because she fears for his safety.

She says her husband was recently transferred to a higher-security part of the mental hospital, together with criminally insane people who have committed murder. She says she believes hospital authorities want to harm her husband, and have deliberately exposed him to dangerous criminals who might kill him.

Human rights groups have documented Mr. Wang's case, and say, too, there is no evidence he is mentally ill. But with no access to Chinese mental hospitals, it is virtually impossible to verify his claims.

Rights groups also allege that China has detained hundreds of followers of the banned Falun Gong meditation movement in psychiatric hospitals.

On Tuesday, China dismissed such claims as groundless and irresponsible. A statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry says China has strict regulations on the management of mental hospitals and the treatment of psychiatric patients.

The statement, however, admits that some what it calls obsessed Falun Gong followers were sent to mental institutions by their relatives to receive treatment. It says doctors accepted them only after they were diagnosed as mentally ill.

The statement from Beijing comes a day after the World Psychiatric Association meeting in Yokohama, Japan, voted to send a team to China in May, to investigate claims that dissidents are being treated as mental patients. The psychiatric group says it will first work out guidelines with Chinese authorities.

The Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday makes no mention of the proposal by the psychiatric association. If China refuses the request, it could be expelled from the group.