Radio Free Asia: Veteran Chinese Democracy Activist Held in Psychiatric Unit

Radio Free Asia

Authorities in Shanghai have been holding an elderly veteran of China’s 1978 pro-democracy movement in psychiatric facilities for more than five years, a whistleblowing psychiatrist has said, as Beijing issued a white paper lauding its own “tremendous” progress on human rights.

Qiao Zhongling—who is often spoken of in connection with Wei Jingsheng, the “father” of China’s democracy movement now living in the United States—has been transferred between three separate psychiatric hospitals in Shanghai over the past five years, his former psychiatrist Ma Jinchun said.

Jin Zhong, editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Kaifang, said Ma’s account is backed up by the magazine’s own research into Qiao’s fate.

A file photo of a patient at a psychiatric hospital in Fuzhou
receiving a blood transfusion with bound feet.
AFP Photo

“Qiao Zhongling has been locked up in a psychiatric facility for five years, and has been transferred three times,” Jin said. “[Ma] was Qiao’s doctor at the most recent place he was sent to.”

Ma had repeatedly raised concerns with hospital management that Qiao, 70, had no psychiatric illness, and recommended stopping his medication, Jin said.

“They were imposing treatment on him forcibly, for mental illness,” he told RFA on Monday. “The medicine affected his brain, and also had a bad effect on his coronary arteries.”

“Dr. Ma told the hospital management that Qiao Zhongling wasn’t a mental health patient, but the leaders told him he had been brought there by the police, and that they couldn’t get involved,” Jin said.

“After that, he got curious, and got around the Great Firewall to find a lot of news stories about cases similar to Qiao Zhongling’s,” he said.

“Then he realized Qiao Zhongling was the victim of [political] persecution.”


Qiao was designated a counterrevolutionary during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), before joining the Democracy Wall movement instigated by Wei Jingsheng and a handful of other dissidents, and then starting the Shanghai Democracy Forum in 1978.

He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment during the crackdown by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping that followed, and has remained under police supervision ever since.

“He has been under surveillance ever since he came out of jail at the end of his three-year sentence,” Jin said. “They won’t let him work, and they say he is a police informant.”

According to Jin, Ma feared for his safety after he tried to save Qiao, so he took his whole family to the United States.

Now, activists fear that Qiao could be allowed to die in the hospital in a manner similar to the alleged 2012 suicide in police custody of veteran Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang.

“The medication has affected his brain function, and it’s doing more damage than a beating would,” Jin said. “[Ma worries that] he’ll be finished if things carry on like this.”

Qiao first lost touch with family and friends after a visit to Hong Kong in 2001 in a bid to get his book published in the former British colony.

The authorities later accused the book of seeking to overthrow the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and diagnosed him with “delusions of persecution.”

Guangxi-based dissident Wang Debang said the authorities frequently use such tactics as a way of neutralizing members of China’s democracy movement.

“The pro-democracy activists who remain in China wind up economically destitute, their reputations ruined and their families destroyed,” Wang said.

“It’s very cruel.”

‘Tremendous achievements’

In a white paper released on Monday, Beijing said it has made “tremendous achievements” in its human rights record, showing that the country is “taking the correct path of human rights development that suits its national conditions.”

The document, issued by China’s cabinet, the State Council, sets out the country’s “achievements” in protecting people’s right to economic development, democracy, impartial trial, and a clean environment, as well as the rights of women, children, senior citizens, ethnic minorities, and the disabled, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

However, a women’s rights group in the eastern city of Hangzhou linked to the five feminists detained for an International Women’s Day campaign has been forced to close for lack of funding in the wake of intense political pressure, activists told RFA.

Weizhiming, run by one of the five feminists, Wu Rongrong, was set up to campaign against discrimination in the workplace, violence against women, and sexual harassment on public transport.

Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan were released “on bail” in April after being detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” on March 6.

Wu, who has been diagnosed with Hepatitis B, and who spent some of her detention in a police hospital, told RFA at the time that her life was put in danger by her lack of access to needed medication while she was in detention.

Wuhan-based activist Zhang Leilei said the organization was “a very meaningful one.”

“A lot of people are very sad that it has closed,” Zhang said. “But we will continue its work in different forms.”

A growing trend

She said the move is part of an ongoing crackdown on civic groups and nongovernment organizations, which the government sees as a hotbed of social activism outside the control of the party.

“There is a growing trend in government meetings to call for women to get back to the domestic sphere,” Zhang said. “[They think] issues like women’s rights could affect the stability of the regime, so they are moving in to suppress and control women’s rights groups.”

Meanwhile, 12 Chinese activists who voiced public support for last year’s Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong are still behind bars, after more than 100 were detained across the country since October, activists said.

According to the rights website Weiquanwang, six people in Beijing and six in the southern province of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong and shares its language and culture, remain in detention for supporting the “Umbrella Movement,” among them Su Changlan and Tian Li.

Guangdong based activist Ran Chongbi, who was herself held by police for eight months for supporting the Occupy movement, said she had been mistreated while inside the police-run detention center.

“They made me wear manacles, as if I was a dog, and they wouldn’t let me use the toilet,” Ran said. “They mistreated me and wouldn’t feed me.”

“They said that I was trying to overthrow the party, but I said that I had acted within the law.”

Reported by Lin Ping and Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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