It is difficult to believe this can happen in a sane society. It is even more difficult to imagine some township governments being involved in this. But truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
More than a dozen local residents were sent to a mental hospital by local governments simply because they repeatedly petitioned higher authorities for solutions to their problems.
It happened in several townships in the city of Xintai in Shandong province.
The way they were sent to the mental hospital was barbaric, and so was the way they were treated there. They were either kidnapped on their way to Beijing or picked up from home before they started off on their mission. They were forced into vans sometimes even without the knowledge of their families. They had their hands and feet bound in the hospital and had pills forced down their throats.
Their mobile phones were confiscated and they were not allowed to contact their families. Nor were they allowed to talk to each other in the hospital. When one of them was found hiding the pill under his tongue every time he was ordered to take it, a nurse would ask him to open his mouth to see whether it had been swallowed.
They were not to be released unless they signed a paper promising that they will never put up their cases with higher authorities again.
A government can only take such action to send a mentally challenged person to a mental hospital when there is apprehension that the patient might cause physical harm to others. But all this has to be done in accordance with legal provisions. And the permission of the patient`s family must be taken in advance.
In the Xintai case, the township governments were, first of all, guilty of infringing upon the citizens` rights of these residents. And they deprived these residents of their freedom by sending them to the mental hospital by force.
The local governments were actually guilty on several counts. Not only did they not help them with their problems, but also they were wrong in trying to stop them from appealing to the higher authorities. But their worst act was to send them to mental hospitals so that the residents could not appeal to the higher authorities.
Yet, the bitter irony is that this very city government has been cited as a model for its achievements in reducing the number of petitioners both to provincial and central governments.
This is a particularly bad example of the ends justifying the means. Some bureaucracies at lower levels resort to any means to get good ratings from the higher authorities. Even if that means violating the law and trampling on people`s rights.
There are clearly two issues involved here. One relates to finding proper solutions to people`s problems through thorough investigations. This involves better communication between governments at lower and higher levels.
The other issue is equally important - that of holding the township governments to account for their obviously unlawful - and inhuman - action.
Oppressing petitioners is no way to govern or to redress their grievances.