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Protester of "99% of Petitioners Are Mentally Ill" Statement Gets One Year in Prison

May 4, 2010

Rights activist Zhou Li (周莉) was sentenced by a Beijing court on May 4, 2010, to one year’s imprisonment on conviction of “causing disturbance” (寻衅滋事). The case arose from a March 2009 public remark made by Sun Dongdong (孙东东), a professor of forensic psychiatry (司法精神病学) at Peking University Law School, that “at least 99 percent of the professional petitioners have mental problems – all suffering from paranoia disorders” (“至少99%以上精神有问题—— 都是偏执型精神障碍”). In its verdict, the Chongwen District People’s Court of Beijing said that on April 1, 2009, Zhou Li incited a large number of petitioners to chant slogans, distribute leaflets, and rush the Peking University gate, resulting in disorder.

Mo Shaoping (莫少平), one of Zhou’s two lawyers, told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that Zhou Li was not guilty because she did not organize, lead, or incite the petitioners. “The petitioners went to Peking University as a result of Sun’s statement, which reached them via the media and absolutely not as the result of dissemination and incitement by Zhou Li.” (“孙东东…… 言论通过新闻媒体传播到其他访民,导致他们去北大,根本不是周莉传播煽动和带领的结果。”) He added that the evidence the government presented against Zhou was neither conclusive nor sufficient.

In her self-defense statement in court, Zhou said that she and several other petitioners went to Peking University with the intention of obtaining a psychological evaluation by Sun and an explanation for his statement. She said that they were stopped at the university gate by security guards and eventually left the university area. Zhou added that after Sun made a public apology on April 6 for “hurting the feelings of some people” (“伤害了一些人的感情”), she even returned to Peking University to try to persuade the petitioners to stop their protest.

Sun’s original statement – made in an interview with China Newsweek (中国新闻周刊) and published in an article with the title “Sun Dongdong: The Biggest Protection Is to Send Mental Patients to the Hospital” (孙东东:把精神病人送到医院是最大的保障) – provoked a firestorm of reactions from petitioners. The statement was regarded as particularly harmful to petitioners because of Sun’s position as the director of the Forensic Evaluation Office at Beijing University (北京大学司法鉴定室), one of about a dozen such places in the country authorized by the Ministry of Justice to provide medical and other evaluations for the public and the government. Sun is reportedly also a member of a team tasked with drafting the Mental Health Law  (精神卫生法).

Zhou, a well-known Beijing rights defender, has been active in helping victims of forced relocations and other injustices. Because of her work, she suffered multiple beatings by police and unidentified people. Zhou has been in detention since August 2009, when her son was not yet two. During her detention, she was allowed to see her son only once, in November 2009.

“One has to wonder about the fairness of this court decision: Who in fact ‘caused disturbance,’ the speaker of an irresponsible statement insulting 99 percent of petitioners, or a petitioner who sought explanation for the statement?” said Sharon Hom, executive director of HRIC. “We urge the Beijing judiciary to re-examine the case with the aim to hand down a just decision.”

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