01/26/2013, 00.00
CHINA

Asylums and mutilation: China’s new forms of torture

Chen Weijun
While the central government debates whether to reform the system of "re-education through labor" cases of human rights violations multiply and worsen. The story of Chen Qingxia, wife of a mentally ill man, beaten until she lost the use of her legs as she tried to present his petition to the central government. Her husband was interned in a psychiatric hospital and her 12 year old son has disappeared into thin air.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - While the central government discusses the abolition of the system of "re-education through labor", the Chinese news reports cases of horrific human rights violations. This is confirmed by the story of Chen Qingxia (see photo), the wife of a mentally ill man who became disabled as a result of the violence suffered while trying to get justice from the central authorities over abuse. Her story was told to China National Radio and even confirmed by an official of the Department of propaganda, who, however, tried to change the details.

Chen's misfortunes began in 2003 when her husband, being treated at a psychiatric hospital, was sentenced to a labor camp (laojiao) for damaging a piece of railroad. After the conviction, the  camp refused to accommodate the man because of his psychiatric problems and brought him to the Yichun Office of Public Security - Heilongjiang - where the family lives. Chen saw several wounds on her husband's body and feared for his mental health seriously deteriorated after this trip. A few weeks later he was declared schizophrenic and committed to a psychiatric hospital, a very common practice used by the communist regime to silence dissenting voices.

From this moment, the woman has been trying to get justice from the central government through the petitions system. It is a form provided and defended by the Chinese Constitution: if any citizen believes they have been wronged by the local authorities, they may request the central government to intervene. Given the huge number of cases, the minor officials - often corrupt and deviated in the management of local justice and security - will do anything to stop those who want to bring their petition to Beijing.

In 2007, while returning from the capital, she was arrested and held in prison for 10 days in Yichun. During this detention she was badly beaten and lost the use of her legs, "My feet were fine after the visit to Beijing. While in custody they beat me and now I am not able to walk unaided." Next she was first locked up in a deserted morgue, guarded by a soldier, and then sentenced to 18 months of forced labour. Meanwhile, her son, aged 12, has disappeared into thin air. Li Nan, propaganda official in Yichun, confirmed the detention but specifies that Chen was "taking care" of 4 people in the Department of Hygiene for "humanitarian reasons".

Chen's case is part of the ongoing debate in China on the abolition of the system of "laojiao." According to rumors, the Party, led by new leader Xi Jinping, is preparing to abolish them, for others it will only be a superficial "reform". In addition, several dissidents and analysts denounce, "without cross-checking, that can only be guaranteed by democracy, Beijing will always have the need to violate the human rights of the population. They can change the name, but will find another to define the same things."

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